Here’s what caregivers should know about seniors and allergy medications so they can help keep their loved ones safe.
Understanding Seasonal Allergies
Allergies occur when something the body recognizes as an invader triggers an immune response. In spring, common invaders are pollen, grass, or mold. The symptoms of seasonal allergies can be mild, such as itchy, watery eyes, a runny nose, or a rash. They can also be more intense, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, or even swelling in the throat.
Issues with Antihistamines
Many people use antihistamines to treat allergies. Two common antihistamines found in allergy medications are chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine.
- Chlorpheniramine is in medications like Chlor-Trimeton and Chlor-Tabs. It is also commonly found in drugs labeled for nighttime use.
- Diphenhydramine is the main ingredient in Benadryl.
Chlorpheniramine and diphenhydramine are anticholinergics, meaning they block the action of acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that helps control functions like learning and memory. The brain’s ability to use acetylcholine declines with age and taking medications with these ingredients further reduces its action.
In addition to their harmful effects on the brain, these medications can also cause unfavorable side effects, including confusion, drowsiness, urine retention, dizziness, and dry mouth and eyes. Anticholinergics can also interact negatively with certain prescription medications used to manage chronic medical conditions, like blood pressure.
Caregivers should know that medications aren’t the only option for treating allergies. Natural remedies may help protect senior loved ones against pollen and other allergens.
Natural Allergy Remedies
- Limit exposure to pollen: One way to protect senior loved ones is to limit their exposure to pollen. Pollen counts tend to be highest between 5 and 10 am, especially when it’s warm and dry or windy. It’s usually a good idea to avoid going outside during these times and keep home and car windows closed. If your loved one does go out, change their clothes to minimize contact.
- Stay clean: To keep allergies at bay, take a bath or shower each night to wash any pollen from the hair and body. This can also help avoid bringing allergens to bed.
- Wash bedding: Wash your loved one’s sheets, pillows, and blankets with soap and warm water at least once per week to keep them pollen-free.
- Use a HEPA filter: HEPA filters are another tool for reducing symptoms of allergies. They work by trapping pollutants. Try putting one in your loved one’s bedroom.
- Try a Neti pot: This small device that looks like a teapot works by cleansing the nasal passages. Add a sterile saline solution to the Neti pot. Tilt your head to the side and place the spout in your top nostril and let the liquid drain through the bottom nostril. Just be careful your loved one doesn’t use the pot too frequently.
Consult with a Doctor
If your loved one is having trouble managing their allergies, they should consult with their doctor before taking an OTC allergy medication. A medical professional can recommend an alternative drug that won’t affect their brain function or interfere with their current medications.
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