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As I write this it is technically still winter, but the weather is reminiscent of spring. This brings to mind the allergies, its connection to asthma, its onset and how to manage it. Allergies are problematic for everyone who suffers from them, but for those of us who are experiencing the frustrations of aging and the accompanying medical problems and medications, allergies and the allergens that cause them, can be even more problematic.
As we age we tend to have more respiratory problems and not all respiratory problems are caused by allergies, for instance asthma and respiratory problems can be triggered by acid reflux, (heartburn) that can increase as we age. And, as we age our lungs may cease to work as well as they once did. But, there is no avoiding the fact that as we age allergies and allergy-like symptoms are more likely to manifest themselves. This is partially due to the repeated exposure to allergens and air pollution, as well as smoking. Also contributing to this problem is the effects of aging on our overall health, the medications we take, and even new foods we try. The aging process makes us especially vulnerable to developing upper respiratory allergies and asthma.
Of all types of allergies, upper respiratory allergies, caused primarily by allergens in the home, (dust, pet dander, mold, etc), are more easily developed as we age. Regarding asthma, Dr. Huss Dr. Huss stated in her study of upper respiratory allergies in those over 65 years of age was published in a May 2006 issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, that “asthma is a significant, chronic problem in the elderly," that is under studied and often is either undiagnosed or improperly treated. Dr. Huss had 80 subjects in her study, all over the age of 65. She found that 75% of her subjects tested positive to an airborne allergen and 50% tested positive to a skin test to at least one airborne allergen. Dr. Huss noted that while indoor allergens were the most irritating to her subjects.
Now, you may be wondering why this issue is important. As it turns out these allergens (bronchial irritants in the home), can leave the elderly at risk from asthma complications. Dr. Huss stated in her article that allergens found in the homes of older adults with asthma were found primarily in “carpeting, older furnishings, high indoor relative humidities and non-encased mattresses…..cockroach exposure is also a significant cause of asthma….and exposures to furred pets are important triggers for asthma.” Allergies and asthma can also be triggered by food additives containing sulphur, (dry food, canned goods, bear and wine), cold and damp weather, vigorous activity, strong odors, (perfume, cleaning sprays, chemical fumes), and suffering from sinusitis or hay fever.
According to an article published in 2005 on line in Medical News Today, the fact that the elderly are more susceptible to asthma and allergies is clinically significant as elderly subjects are at a higher risk of developing
excessive airway narrowing, with increased asthma morbidity, (greater intensity of the illness), and a higher rate of mortality.
Knowing the signs of an asthma or allergy attach can go a long way to curtailing the damage. Some common warning signs are as follows: Coughing, (worse at night or in the early morning); wheezing, (breathing with a squeaky sound and with difficulty); shortness of breath, (due to constricted airways); and fast or noisy breathing along with panting. Some common symptoms of asthma are mood swings, sneezing, headache, stuffy and blocked nose, coughing, feeling tired, sensitive or itchy chin or throat, trouble sleeping. Keep in mind that symptoms, and their severity, differ from person to person.
So, what do you do about it if you are suffering from allergies or asthma? According to the on line reference Your Asthma Treatment, (www.yourasthmatreatment.com) older people can have asthma and allergies triggered by viral respiratory diseases like flue and cold as well as the usual suspects, (dander, pollen etc), so it is important to get a flue shot. Asthma can be triggered by medications like anti-inflammatory’s, used to treat arthritis and pain, beta-blockers, used to treat heart disease, and beta-blocking eye drops, used to treat glaucoma. So make sure to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding any medication’s you may be taking, especially the potential for respiratory related side effects. Also, make sure to talk with your pharmacist about any interactions your medications may have, (this means that one or more drugs can effect how other drugs work). And, as the symptoms of asthma and allergies can be mistaken for the symptoms of other illnesses, (heart and lung disease), it is important to be able to explain precisely what took place and when to a doctor. Remember, older people don’t always responds as well as their younger counterparts to treatment, so it is important not to overuse medication trying to deal with the problem.
Sharon Grant, LAD, BA, SAC, Media Phil Cert, PhD.