It’s spring! Time to bring out the light, colorful blouses, shirts, and shorts that have been in storage for months and enjoy the wonderful weather. But just as the new season causes our clothes to change their weight and color, specific spring health concerns for seniors also emerge, including allergies, sun exposure, dehydration and heat stress.
Allergies & Respiratory Conditions
Unfortunately, those refreshing spring breezes also carry pollen grains that our body combats by releasing chemicals called histamines. These chemicals trigger runny noses, itchy eyes, and other symptoms.
Seniors, many of whom have less robust immune systems than they had when they were younger, can find it more difficult to fight off health issues like allergic rhinitis, which affects 12 percent of older adults. The inhalation of dust mites, pollen and spores are common causes of these allergies. Symptoms include:
- Runny, stuffy, or itchy nose
- Sore throat
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Frequent headaches
Over-the-counter medications may include antihistamines or decongestants. Seniors who have an abnormal heart rhythm, heart disease, history of stroke, anxiety, a sleep disorder, high blood pressure, or bladder issues should consult with a physician before taking decongestants.
Eye drops and nasal spray can be used relieve some symptoms, but long-term use of these solutions should be avoided.
If you suffer from springtime allergies, other precautions to take include:
- Staying indoors during high pollen and mold count days
- Keeping windows closed in your house and vehicle
- Showering and washing your hair frequently
- Vacuuming rugs frequently to help control the accumulation of household dust
- Removing shoes and hats before going into your house
Spring also aggravates other respiratory conditions like asthma, which is commonly found in people age 65 and older. Asthma occurs when allergens and irritants constrict a person’s airway. Inflammation and increased production of mucous follows, causing difficulty breathing.
Asthma can first develop in people in their 70s and 80s. It poses a much higher risk for respiratory failure among older adults.
Treatment for asthma includes inhaled steroids, quick relief inhalers, mast cell stabilizers to stop allergic reactions, and immunotherapy.
Asthma sufferers should take the same precautions as those suffering from springtime allergies, which are listed above.
Springtime brings a desire to enjoy the sun and the outdoor activities the sunshine brings.
While sunlight and the corresponding activity for seniors carries many benefits—stronger bones, better mood, cardiovascular health—it also has its down side. This includes skin cancer, macular degeneration, and cataracts.
What is a safe amount of direct exposure to the sun for seniors? Some experts recommend 5 to 10 minutes per day, 3 to 4 times per week.
It’s important to understand that some medications do not mix well with sunlight, causing a person to be more susceptible to the ill effects of the sun:
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
The above list is not complete. Please consult with your physician about how much sun exposure you should have, and if you take medications that may make you more sensitive to sunlight.
Unfortunately, many seniors do not heed the warnings about too much sunlight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than half of older adults protect their skin from the sun when outside for an hour or more on a warm sunny day.
This is concerning, as seniors are much more likely to develop skin cancers as younger adults and children.
- Stay in the shade
- Use sunscreens rated at SPF 30 or higher, with the label that reads: “protects against both UVA and UVB rays”
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat
- Wear ankle-length clothing and a long-sleeved shirt
As temperatures climb and physical activity increases, it becomes even more important for seniors to consume plenty of fluids.
Complicating the issue is that the ability to feel thirst lessens with age, and some medications increase dehydration.
Mild dehydration symptoms:
- Continuous Thirst
- Muscle cramps
- Reduced urine output
- Cool, dry skin
- Sleepiness or irritability
- Dry mouth
Serious dehydration symptoms:
- Low blood pressure
- Severe cramping
- Bloated stomach
- Rapid but weak pulse
- Dry, sunken eyes
- Inelastic skin
- Rapid breathing
Proper hydration aids in digestion, reduces the risk of fatal coronary artery disease, and decreases the risk of falling.
In people with certain medical conditions, limiting their fluid intake is important. However, generally healthy older adults should consume at least eight to 10 8-oz. servings of liquid daily—preferably water.
To avoid dehydration, seniors should be encouraged to drink even when they are not thirsty, and avoid alcohol and caffeine. Seek immediate medical attention if symptoms of severe dehydration are present.
Higher spring temperatures and the heat of summer that follows are far more likely to cause problems for seniors. This is a heightened spring health concern for seniors due to their diminished ability to adjust to changing temperatures and the fact that they are more likely to have a chronic medical condition. And they may take medications that impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fast and weak pulse
- Fast and shallow breathing
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related condition. Symptoms include:
- An extremely high body temperature (above 103 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Red, hot, and dry skin (without sweating)
- Rapid, strong pulse
- Throbbing headache
During heat stroke, the body is unable to control its temperature, and loses the ability to sweat. It can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.
To prevent problems with the heat:
- Rest frequently
- Seek out shady spots
- Stay hydrated
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
- Wear lightweight clothing
- Remain indoors during the heat of the day
- Avoid strenuous activities outdoors
The benefits of spring include fresh air, warm sunlight, and longer days to enjoy the world around us. These are a blessing, especially for seniors — just as long as we understand and protect ourselves from the health concerns that may come with them.
Spring health concerns are one factor of the seasonal change. Read our blog for more health and wellness tips for the spring.