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Allergy-related conditions are something that you usually relate to childhood health, however, it is estimated that allergy prevalence in the elderly is between 5 and 10 percent. While some people grow out of their allergies, others will find that their allergies will continue into their older age. Some seniors may even develop allergies for the first time in their old age.
There are a number of different kinds of allergic conditions that can affect a senior. Here are some of the most common allergy signs and symptoms.
Rhinitis is an allergic condition when the mucous membranes of the nose are inflamed. Symptoms of rhinitis include:
Sinusitis is a condition when the sinuses behind the cheekbones, around the eyes, and around the nose have long-lasting inflammation. Signs of this condition include:
Skin allergies can develop into various skin conditions and are typically expressed as itching, rashes, and discomfort. Skin allergy symptoms include:
Elderly people can develop late-onset food allergies due to changing immune system responses. Some of the common symptoms include:
It should also be noted that anaphylaxis is a food allergy symptom that can be extremely dangerous. Someone experiencing anaphylaxis may show the following signs:
Generally, elderly immune systems mean an increased susceptibility to infection difficulties with autoimmunity, and a decreased response to vaccinations as well as wound healing. When it comes to the common allergic exacerbations of pollen, mold, or pet dander, the elderly body is at a disadvantage in protecting itself against these substances.
As a result of immunosenescence, or the aging of one’s immune system, seniors are likely to experience a change in the way their bodies handle offending allergens, as well as certain foods and drugs.
To find out if you have an allergy, you will want to visit an allergist. The doctor will ask you about your medical history, and symptoms. They will then move on to a physical exam and conducting the allergy test.
They may perform a skin or blood allergy test. Most allergists prefer skin testing as it is the standard practice and tends to be the most accurate. In the event that a medication is interfering with the interpretation of the test or in the case of severe skin rashes, a blood test may be ordered.
When dealing with allergies in older adults, it’s important to isolate the symptoms of other pre-existing conditions and others that may be brought on by offending allergens. Considering allergies can arise simply from combining the wrong medications, always check with your doctor before adding a new pill or supplement to your regimen.
Each type of allergy can be treated in different ways, however, the most common methods of allergy treatment include:
These are the mainstay in the treatment of allergies, especially for younger people. First-generation antihistamines like chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine are generally effective in reducing sneezing, itching, and rhinorrhea.
These are used to reduce nasal swelling, which in turn relieves congestion. The most common used agent is pseudoephedrine, however, it does have the potential to stimulate the nervous system to produce side effects like anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and palpitations.
Anti-Inflammatory Nasal Sprays
Most of these medications are safe for older adults to use. For most people, these agents are effective in reducing sneezing, itching, congestion, and rhinorrhea with very minimal side effects. Common nonsteroidal agents include cromolyn, azelastine, and olopatadine. Otherwise, corticosteroid versions are available as beclomethasone, flunisolide, triamcinolone, budesonide, fluticasone and ciclesonide.
Immunotherapy and Emergency Options
If the available medications are generally ineffective or the risks are too high for elderly patients, another treatment option is immunotherapy.
Essentially, patients are injected with extremely small amounts of an allergen, eventually increasing the dosage to develop a resistance. These “allergy shots” are an effective long-term treatment that decreases the symptoms of rhinitis, asthma, conjunctivitis, or even insect stings.
For patients who experience extreme reactions to food allergens or certain insect venoms, it is usually a good idea to carry a form of auto-injectable epinephrine. These handy devices can be used to prevent severe anaphylaxis, which can be a major medical emergency if left unattended to.