Over-the-counter Allergy Treatments can Harm Seniors. | Avalon Memory Care

Over-the-counter Allergy Treatments can Harm Seniors.

Spring is a glorious season filled with lovely weather and blooming foliage. But with all that greenery comes pollen and the inevitable allergies. An estimated 40% of the population suffers from seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) every year.

Allergies can occur at any stage of life, but for the elderly, seasonal allergies can pose unique challenges. As the immune system ages, seniors are more prone to inflammation and infections of all kinds, including allergies. In addition, seniors are more likely to be taking multiple medications, which can interact with over-the-counter medications.

Need to help a senior navigate the allergy season safely? Follow these tips:

Note and track all allergy symptoms.
Common symptoms include sneezing, coughing, congestion, runny nose, wheezing, itchy and watery eyes, and itchy skin. Are these symptoms consistent with high pollen counts? Do they occur when you’ve spent an extended amount of time outside or when the windows are open? Note any changes to report when you and your loved one see the doctor.

Bring it up at the next appointment.
Often seniors have multiple health conditions, so a physician may spend appointment time addressing more significant issues. But managing allergies is essential, especially for seniors with cardiovascular problems or lung disease.

Seniors with dementia may not communicate their discomfort to the physician, so be on the lookout for signs of allergy discomfort and alert the doctor if necessary.

Avoid first-generation antihistamines.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), seniors should avoid taking first-generation antihistamines. Popular first-generation antihistamines are diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton). They’re not only in allergy medications but also popular sleep medications like Tylenol PM and Nyquil. The side effects—possible anxiety, confusion, drowsiness, urine retention, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness—make these drugs inappropriate for seniors.

Talk to a doctor or pharmacist before dispensing any other over-the-counter medications.

Much safer than first-generation antihistamines are over-the-counter nasal steroids for congestion or a topical cream for itchiness.

If necessary, the AAAAI recommends second- or third-generation antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), or loratadine (Claritin). But before dispensing any of these medications, check with a doctor or pharmacist to rule out any interactions with your loved one’s medications.

Keep allergens outside.
Check the pollen count online or on the local weather report before planning outdoor activities. Wearing glasses or sunglasses outdoors will help prevent eye irritation, and wearing a mask is a good option when the pollen count is high. Saline nasal sprays can help rinse the nasal cavities of allergens that cause congestion.

The AAAAI suggests taking a shower before bed and laundering any clothing worn outdoors for an extended period. Change bed linens regularly and avoid having a pet sleep on the bed since pet fur collects pollen and allergens.

Keep windows closed and check that your senior has a well-functioning air conditioner equipped with a HEPA filter to filter allergens from the air. Some allergy sufferers also like to have an air purifier in their bedrooms.

Consider allergy shots.
Allergy shots are highly effective for senior patients, so consider seeing an allergist if problems persist.

Allergy season does not have to be miserable. Tracking symptoms, consulting the experts, and taking preventative measures can ensure that you and your senior can enjoy the great outdoors comfortably. See the American Academy for Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology website for more information.

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