Thu. Jun 8th, 2023

By Fady Youssef, M.D.

Contributing writer

As spring approaches, allergens flare up and can cause discomfort for many, including older adults. 

Depending on where you live, allergy season can begin as early as January and last through November. Allergic rhinitis — often referred to as hay fever — is usually triggered by seasonal allergens, such as pollen, weeds, fungus spores, mold and grasses. 

According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018 more than 16% of adults over the age of 65 have dealt with hay fever, while only 5% of those 18 through 44 did.

These results indicate that the prevalence of seasonal allergies tends to increase with age.

Common allergy symptoms

As you age, it is especially important to notice any sudden allergy symptoms, so your physician can appropriately diagnose and treat them. Common symptoms include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose;
  • Watery eyes;
  • Sneezing;
  • Coughing;
  • Itchy eyes, nose or ears;
  • Scratchy throat; and
  • Sinus headache.

With a weakened immune system and underlying health conditions, the effects of allergies can be especially harmful with age. Nasal congestion and an irritated throat can be extremely dangerous for those with pre-existing cardiovascular problems or lung disease – both of which are more common in seniors – because any disruptions in breathing can cause larger problems. If allergy symptoms are severe, the possibility of going into anaphylactic shock is another concern. 

Reducing allergens and allergy symptoms at home 

To protect yourself against allergy symptoms, it is important to take control of and reduce the allergens in your home. This is especially important after retirement, when you may tend to spend more time inside your home. 

If you notice your allergy symptoms are triggered at home, household allergens may be the culprit. Make these simple changes to improve symptoms:

  • Keep your windows closed during the day and run an air conditioner to prevent outside pollen from entering your home. 
  • Install a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help decrease the amount of airborne pollen particles.
  • Place a home dehumidifier in bathrooms, basements and garages to help prevent mold growth. The dehumidifier should be regularly emptied and cleaned to prevent mold growth inside the collection basket.
  • Use mold-killing solutions in areas where moisture is most likely to develop — such as shower curtains or bathroom tiles. 
  • Regularly wash bedding and linens in hot water, and immediately remove laundry from the washing machine to avoid potential mold growth. 
  • Vacuum rugs and carpets with a HEPA filter to reduce pollen collection. 

Allergens should not prevent you from spending time outdoors, but you should stay inside if weather conditions are windy, dry or warm, as pollen counts are typically higher during these types of days. Before going outside be sure to:

  • Check the weather forecast and avoid going outside during a high pollen level day.
  • Plan outdoor activities for days when the pollen counts are projected to be at their lowest. 
  • Wear appropriate clothing and gear to protect yourself from potential allergens. Masks, gloves, hats and sunglasses are effective at keeping pollen out of the nose, mouth and eyes.  

Available medical options and treatments

If symptoms do not improve with lifestyle changes or are causing chronic sinus infections or difficulty breathing, it is especially important that you seek medical treatment. Some treatment options include:

  • Nasal decongestants, which are used to treat nasal swelling and relieve congestion. 
  • Anti-inflammatory nasal sprays, which are useful in reducing common allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness and congestion. Nasal sprays usually display minimal side effects and no drug interactions, making it a safe choice for treating allergies in older adults.
  • Immunotherapy, which typically includes allergen shots that are regularly given over a period of three to five years. If you have a chronic condition or disease, consult your doctor when considering this treatment option, as the risk for side effects is higher. 
  • Over-the-counter or prescription allergy antihistamines. Always consult with your doctor before choosing an antihistamine, as these can cause adverse symptoms and pose a health risk to seniors.

Although allergy symptoms can be serious, when they are proactively and effectively managed you can still enjoy a normal, active life. Be sure to discuss any allergy concerns with your doctor to help prevent any serious side effects and allow you to continue to enjoy your golden years. To find a physician who can help, visit or call 800-MEMORIAL.

Dr. Fady Youssef is a board-certified pulmonologist, internist and critical care specialist who focuses in the treatment of pulmonary diseases and critical illness.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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