What You Need to Know about Allergies and AgingWhat You Need To Know About Allergies and Aging

Spring is here, with flowers, grass, and for a lot of us, allergies. If you suspect your allergies are getting worse over time, returning after a long break, or starting for the first time, you may be right. One of the ironies of living a long time is that our immune systems have more chances to develop adverse reactions to things like pollen, animal dander, food, and even medications. On top of that, time changes our bodies in ways that can magnify the effects of allergies, and other conditions can complicate allergy symptoms and diagnoses.

All that said, there’s no reason to suffer, and plenty of good reasons not to. Treating allergies properly can reduce the risk of sinus and respiratory infections, decrease symptoms if you have asthma, and allow you to enjoy daily life more. The four steps below can make life with allergies easier.

1. Keep your living and work spaces pristine

Allergy researchers say indoor allergens tend to be a particular problem as we age. Dust mites and (ugh!) cockroaches inside our living and work spaces can spur our immune systems to overreact. If you’ve needed a good reason to declutter your home or hire house-cleaning help, this is it.

To bust dust mites in your bedding, you can buy inexpensive, comfortable allergy-proof pillow and mattress covers at most discount and department stores. If bugs are an issue, it’s time to re-evaluate your pest control plan and either set out baits or hire a professional.

2. Clean the air

Whether you’re frugal or just love a fresh spring breeze, keeping the windows closed on a nice day can be tough. Experts say that on days with high pollen counts, it’s better to shut the windows and let your air conditioner filter the air. Newer central air models usually have filters that neutralize allergens and mold spores. If yours doesn’t, you may be able to buy disposable HEPA filters that fit your unit, or you can pick up a freestanding air purifier for your bedroom or office.

3. Be judicious with natural and over the counter remedies

Before you try any new allergy medication or supplement, ask your pharmacist or doctor how it might react with other medications you take or affect other conditions you have. And ask whether it will work for your symptoms. Local honey is a popular folk remedy for pollen allergies, for example, but many allergists say there’s no solid evidence that it works.

One time-honored tradition that has documented benefits is the neti pot, which delivers a salt water solution to irrigate the sinuses and rinse out irritants. If you decide to try it, make sure to keep the pot clean and to only use distilled or purified water.

4. See a doctor who specializes in allergies

If clean air and simple remedies aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to see the doctor.  And if your regular physician is having trouble treating your symptoms, see an allergist, preferably one with experience treating older patients. A good allergist can test you for particular allergens, administer shots that can improve your symptoms for years, and untangle complicated symptoms to deliver the right treatment. Once you have a plan that works, stick with it, and check in with your doctor if new symptoms develop.

You may have to change your routine to get your allergies under control (who really likes cleaning house and going to the doctor?) but the results—easier breathing, eyes that don’t itch, and fewer headaches—are worth it.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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