Allergies are a common ailment among the American population, and that's true for people of all ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the past 12 months alone, 19.2 million people have been diagnosed with hay fever. And the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology notes that around 13% of adults in the United States suffer from sinusitis.
But if you've never had allergies before, can you develop them in later years? Find out more about allergies for those age 65 and older below.
As with any medical topic, the answer is more complex than yes or no. Aging immune systems may struggle more to stave off mild allergic reactions to stimuli like pollen, and that can make older adults more susceptible to the symptoms of allergies. And constant exposure to certain environmental factors through the years can lead to a growing intolerance that generates allergy symptoms.
But since your immune system is always evolving, the opposite can be true. As you age, you may find that allergies that plagued you when you were younger are no longer an issue.
The symptoms you might experience as an older adult with allergies are the same as people of any age might experience. Common allergy symptoms include:
One of the biggest issues is that allergy symptoms can mimic the symptoms of other conditions — and vice versa. One physician notes that this can even be a risk factor for older adults, because physicians may misdiagnose allergies as something more severe or treat them as part of an existing condition, such as COPD.
Older adults or their caregivers can help reduce the risks of these types of issues by remaining aware of symptoms and issues. You know your body better than anyone else, and providing your doctor with as much information as possible can help them determine whether you might be dealing with a case of adult-onset allergies or something else.
If you have a chronic health condition, it may be helpful to keep a journal of symptoms. Simply record a few sentences about how you feel each day and list any symptoms you're feeling. Include any changes in your lifestyle for that day. For example, if you ate different food than normal, spent time decluttering a dusty attic or visited the local botanical gardens, you should record those events. That way, you and your doctor can see over time if symptoms are related to specific activities that might point to allergies.
A great benefit of making a home in an assisted living community is that you get access to staff that can help you track and monitor symptoms while managing chronic conditions. At Collinwood, our residents can also take advantage of housekeeping and other services that keep all areas clean, reducing exposure to allergens.
One of the first lines of defense against allergies is mitigating the presence of triggers. Keeping a clean home, using an air purifier and washing your hands regularly are all easy ways to do that. You can also eat well, get plenty of vitamins C and D and work on getting enough rest to ensure your body and immune system are as prepared as possible to fight off allergic reactions.
For many, though, it's impossible to 100% eradicate triggers. In those cases, you may want to explore common treatments for allergies with your physician. Antihistamines are the most commonly prescribed type of medication for allergies, but they aren't always the right option for older adults.
There are multiple classifications of antihistamines. First-generation antihistamines are the go-to for treating allergies because they tend to be the most powerful in minimizing symptoms. But they've also been shown to create anxiety, reduced mental alertness, confusion, blurred vision, constipation or urinary retention in older adults. Because of this, seniors may want to avoid these medications.
Second- and third-generation antihistamines tend to have lower risks for these types of side effects. If you're considering taking medication for allergies, talk to your doctor about what options might be right for you. You might also ask about options such as nasal sprays, and symptoms can often be reduced with over-the-counter nonmedication treatments such as neti pots.
Allergies are often seasonal, and you might experience more symptoms in certain seasons. Spring and fall are common allergy seasons, but depending on your triggers, you could have issues during summer or winter. If you think allergies are cropping up for you in later life, reach out to your health care professional to see what can be done to mitigate symptoms and make you more comfortable.