Allergies can occur in the elderly, but may require careful management. Since allergy symptoms can exacerbate other conditions and some medicines may not be suitable what should you do?
Our immune systems are changing all the time and while some lucky people find they “grow out” of their allergies and less lucky group acquire allergies and intolerances as their immune system ages.
It is important that allergies in the elderly are isolated and treated under medical supervision. Many elderly people are on complex medication regimes which could be disrupted by over-the-counter medicines to relieve allergy symptoms. Severe allergies need careful managing and all home care providers need to be informed of the nature of the allergy and the way it is being managed.
Most of us are aware of the sneezing, itchy nose and running eyes of seasonal allergies (hayfever) but allergies can cause many other symptoms. Things to watch for include:
- itchy, red or watering eyes,
- itchy, runny or blocked nose (usually a clear discharge),
- shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest or a cough,
- skin rashes (hives),
- swelling to the face, eyes, lips or tongue,
- digestive issues such as sore stomach, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea,
- skin problems such as dry, cracked skin.
As you can see the list includes a lot of “generic” symptoms that can be indicative of other problems, such as colds or ageing itself. The symptoms will usually only display when your relative is in contact with the allergen, for example diarrhoea after eating yoghurt or drinking milk could indicate a dairy intolerance.
In severe cases anaphylaxis can occur when exposed the allergen. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment and is distinguished by:
- swelling of throat and mouth,
- difficulty breathing,
- blue skin or lips,
- confusion, light-headedness,
- collapse and unconsciousness.
The first step in treating allergies is to avoid contact with the allergen. In the case of pollen allergies this can be tricky, but air purifiers and regular hoovering can help keep the pollen count indoors to manageable levels. Find out more at the Live in Care Hub about how better live-in care or home care services can relieve allergies and also how home care providers can have benefits for those wishing to stay in their home as they age.
Food allergies can be tackled by eliminating the allergen from the diet. Processed foods and those bought in restaurants need to declare the presence of the twelve most common allergens to assist in this.
If you care for elderly relatives yourself only use over-the-counter medication to treat allergies if you have been given the go-ahead from your loved one’s doctor. The most common class of treatment is antihistamines, which are available in a variety of types targeted at different symptoms.
Decongestants can be used for short-term relief, especially if difficult breathing could impact on other health issues such as heart problems. Again, check which are suitable before use.
Creams and lotions can be used to soothe skin issues. Emollients help moisturise the skin and calamine lotion can be used to target itches.
Steroids can be prescribed to minimise more severe inflammation, but need to be used with caution in the elderly due to potential medication conflicts and the risk of side-effects.