Over 20 percent of Americans suffer from ragweed and mold spore allergies during the fall season. Elderly residents of senior living communities are among those who suffer from the sneezing, watery eyes, and stuffy noses that accompany allergies. However, seniors must take a more cautious approach to treating their symptoms, since they often have to deal with complicating factors such as respiratory problems, chronic diseases, and cardiovascular issues. Use the following tips to help make the fall allergy season more bearable for the senior in your life.
Discover the Types of Fall Allergens
- Ragweed: Ragweed plants are soft-stemmed weeds that grow across much of the United States. They are one of the most predominant causes of fall allergy symptoms, with one single plant producing over one billion pollen grains per season. This plant grows in rural areas and is often found growing alongside riverbanks, roads, in open fields, and in vacant lots. Most ragweed blooms in mid-August, with pollen levels peaking around early September, but they can last well into October.
- Molds: Outdoor molds are another cause of fall allergies. The spores of these fungi are spread by the wind and easily inhaled into the lungs. You can find spores growing on rotting logs, fallen leaves, in compost piles, and in soil. Unlike pollens, mold varieties do not die with the first frost in early winter and instead become dormant until spring.
- Dust Mites: While common during the humid summer months, dust mites frequently get stirred into the air the first time you turn the heater on in the fall, which releases the allergens in their waste products. Symptoms are similar to a ragweed or mold allergy and include itchy or watery eyes, congestion, and sneezing.
The two different types of inhalant allergies (substances that trigger allergy symptoms when inhaled) are perennial and seasonal. Perennial allergens are present throughout the year, while seasonal allergies have distinct periods of time during which they are most present in the environment. As a rule of thumb, remember that trees pollinate in the spring, grasses in the summer, and weeds in the fall. Fall pollen allergies are more likely to appear during peak hours of the day between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Mold and dust mite allergies tend to appear during the evening when temperatures drop and conditions are more likely to be humid and wet.
How to Protect Yourself or Loved One
- Avoid Windy Mornings: Foliage releases pollen in the mornings, especially on windy days. Ragweed, for example, has specialized male flowers that produce large amounts of floating pollen that are easily released into the wind. Remember to wear a face mask if you have to be outside between the hours of 5:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m.
- Check Local Pollen Counts: The National Allergy Bureau and other weather websites regularly post local pollen counts. When pollen counts are too high, seniors should attempt to stay indoors or at least avoid outdoor areas with an abundance of grass and foliage.
- Shower Frequently: Showering after spending time outside removes pollen from your skin and hair, helping to combat allergies. Afterwards, the senior should also place their outdoor clothing in the washer and change into a fresh outfit.
- Control Indoor Environment: Everyone loves a cool fall breeze, but open windows make an easy entry point for pollen and mold. To keep the environment cool, dry, and allergen free, close the windows and turn on the air conditioning. Check the filter on the air conditioner often and change it as directed to remove as many allergens from the air as possible.
Treating Fall Allergens
- Don’t Wait to Treat: As soon as you notice signs of allergies, suggest that your loved one visit a doctor immediately. Waiting to treat the allergies could have disastrous ramifications on your loved one’s health. Symptoms such as a congested nose or irritated throat can become dangerous for a senior who has pre-existing cardiovascular issues.
- Pay Attention to Medication Labels: Over-the-counter (OTC) medications typically form the first line of defense against allergies. However, normal allergy medications can prove unsafe for seniors. Seniors tend to have a higher sensitivity to the antihistamines in these medications, which have side effects that include dizziness, drowsiness, and delayed sedation—all of which can contribute to fall-related injuries. Additionally, even OTC allergy medicines can have detrimental interactions with other prescribed medications. If your loved one’s physician finds concern for a drug interaction, he or she may prescribe other types of allergy defense, such as nasal steroids, nasal irrigation symptoms, or topical medications.
In addition to heightened allergy symptoms, the end of the fall season also brings with it the increased threat of illnesses such as pneumonia and influenza. Those sixty-five and older have a greater risk of complications stemming from these infections due to naturally weakened immune systems that comes with age. The Centers for Diseases Control recommends that seniors get the vaccines for influenza and pneumonia by the end of October each season. Check with your loved one’s senior community to see if they schedule on-site vaccinations that will help keep your loved one healthy throughout late fall and winter.