Breathing Matters, Spring is in the Air: Asthma and Allergy Facts for Seniors

~ By Nancy Fingerhood, Recruitment Coordinator for Western States Clinical Research ~

Many people think asthma afflicts primarily children and doctors often associate wheezing and shortness of breath in older people with either chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart conditions.  There is also a misconception that lung disease symptoms, like shortness of breath are due to the aging process and many seniors don’t discuss symptoms with their doctors.   Seniors may experience episodes of cough and clear mucous production prior to a diagnosis of asthma.

Allergies are also underdiagnosed and undertreated in the aging adult.  Allergic conditions can occur in childhood and then persist into older adulthood and occasionally appear initially in the elderly.  The changing physiology of the elderly patient also presents with special problems because of reduced blood flow to nose, nasal atrophy, and thinning and drying of the mucous membrane.

The truth is, asthma and allergies can develop at any time, even in your 70’s or 80’s.  Sadly, older asthma patients are more likely to be hospitalized because of asthma-related complications than younger people.  Older asthma patients also have co-morbidities such as diabetes, arthritis and physical pain which makes managing their asthma and allergies more difficult.

With the spring approaching, coping with allergies and asthma can be a challenge but there are ways to manage.  If congestion and watery and/or itchy eyes are mainly the symptoms, seek out an asthma and allergy specialist to get an allergy scratch test.  This way, you can know exactly what the culprits are and avoid exposure to those triggers.

Pollen and ragweed, common allergens, can be especially problematic for people with asthma and/or COPD.  Pollen counts are higher during 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and it might be beneficial to stay indoors during those hours if pollen is your trigger.  Many allergies are not just outdoor problems.  It’s important to make sure your air conditioning systems have the proper air filters and regular dusting and cleaning of carpets and upholstered furniture can rid your living environment of pollutants.  But be careful of cleaning products – aerosol spray cleaners can trigger allergy symptoms and have been linked to asthma attacks.

There are several ways to monitor and manage asthma and allergies.  If you have the dexterity to use a peak flow meter, which measures your ability to push air out of your lungs, it can be useful if your asthma is moderate to severe.  The peak flow meter can tell you if your asthma is worsening, even in the absence of symptoms.  A myriad of medications exist for asthma and allergies.  Sometimes, just a short-acting bronchodilator (medication that opens up the airways) such as albuterol is necessary when asthma is mild.  However, care must be taken for patients who have heart diseases if taking medications like albuterol.  For those who need daily maintenance to prevent asthma attacks, your doctors might prescribe a long-acting bronchodilator in combination with an inhaled steroid.  When a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) is not feasible due to technique problems or arthritis in the hands, a nebulizer treatment can be given.  Intranasal steroids appear to be helpful to seniors with allergic rhinitis.  Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and confusion, especially in elderly patients and it’s important to see how the medication affects you before going out or driving after use.

For people looking for treatment options for their asthma and allergy conditions, clinical trials are an option.  Western States Clinical Research located in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, conducts research studies for a variety of conditions including asthma and allergies.  Currently, they are enrolling for three asthma studies and a cat allergy study.

If you would like more information about research and/or the studies at Western States Clinical Research, please call 303-940-9773 or
BREATHING MATTERS is presented by the Colorado Lung Health Connection:

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