Despite the beauty of the spring season, the increase of pollen in the air can be very difficult for healthy adults. Our senior population is not exempt and suffer additional complications from seasonal allergies.
As caregivers, it is important that we pay close attention to our residents that are suffering from seasonal allergies so we can make the season bearable and prevent further exacerbations or complications.
Our elderly residents have multiple chronic conditions and doctors often don’t take the time to focus on allergic symptoms. Sometimes, allergies can be confused as a symptom of a pre-existing diagnosis.
When an allergy concern is expressed to a physician, an anti-histamine is often ordered without exploring other options. Anti-histamines can be dangerous to seniors. The side effects from antihistamines can include increased confusion, increased drowsiness, urinary retention, dry mouth and eyes, and dizziness. These side effects pose risks such as urinary tract infections, an increase of fall risk, increased chance of respiratory compromise and, unfortunately, polypharmacy. (A term used that indicates multiple prescribed drugs- often prescribed to treat the side effects of another drug).
- An appropriate treatment option would be a nasal steroid. This delivers medication to the nasal cavity and helps eliminate most un-needed side effects. These can dry the nasal cavity and this will need to be monitored.
- Saline nasal sprays help clear pollens from the nasal cavity.
- Treating those with past histories of allergies or chronic respiratory diagnosis with preventative measures will prevent further exacerbations. This may include orders to start PRN nebulizers or inhalers on a routine basis.
- Locally produced raw honey contains pollen. Many believe this consumption will reduce seasonal allergies.
How can we assist our residents?
- Encourage the use of a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses while outdoors. This will eliminate the chance of pollen flying into the eyes and hair.
- Different types of pollen counts vary on when their levels are elevated. Some pollens are highest in the morning and others in the evenings. If we are offering an outdoor event, it would be better midday- weather permitting.
- Encourage those residents that are experiencing allergy symptoms to shower each night. This washes away pollens from the hair and keeps them from accumulating on sheets and pillows.
- Encourage residents to change their clothing daily.
- Humidified air may assist with allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergies can affect our senior population and special considerations should be taken to treat the symptoms. Treatment options may be limited due to chronic conditions and the risk of contraindications with current medications. Anti-histamines could pose other risks. As a team, let’s take a pro-active approach to the signs of allergies and encourage natural preventatives.
DeeAnn Stone, Senior Resident Services Specialist