Caregiver's Home Companion

Posted: May 30, 2008

No Matter What Your Age

Be Prepared for Summer Allergies!

Itchy, watery eyes. Stuffy nose. Sneezing. Sound familiar? As much as we love it, warm weather can spell misery for the 20 million to 30 million Americans – many of them among our elderly – who suffer from allergies.

According to Dr. Leslie Miller, director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the majority of spring respiratory problems come from inhaling such allergens as trees or grass pollen and mold spores. Exposure to dust, pet dander, and other indoor pollutants can worsen the severity of spring and summer allergies, essentially adding fuel to the fire.

In addition, Dr. William Reisacher, an ear, nose and throat specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, says allergies can trigger or worsen asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Drs. Miller and Reisacher suggest the following tips to help allergy sufferers' weather through the season:

If you stay in air-conditioned areas with windows closed, you may reduce your symptoms. Be aware that symptoms will flare up the moment you go outside and may remain with you for the rest of the day.

Window air-conditioning units are useful in filtering out large, airborne pollen particles. If you are allergic to pollen it is recommended to run the air-conditioner as much as possible during the warm-weather months. If you use an air conditioner, keep it clean. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems harbor moisture, mold and dust.

If you suffer from mild symptoms, over-the-counter antihistamines will help for a few hours. Caution should be taken because they may cause drowsiness. Driving and operating heavy machinery should be avoided. Occasionally, older men develop urination problems when taking antihistamines.

If you need more relief, over-the-counter antihistamines combined with a decongestant can relieve symptoms, but read the package for health warnings. Individuals who take multiple medications, and those with chronic medical issues like hypertension or prostate problems, should consult a physician.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, see your physician. In almost all instances, identifying allergic sensitivities and tailoring treatment with prescription drugs, nasal sprays, eye drops, non-sedating antihistamines or allergy shots, or specific allergen avoidance can help alleviate symptoms.

Taking care of yourself or a loved one – no matter what age – can make the warm-weather seasons much more comfortable for caregiver and care recipient alike.

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