Adult woman is sitting in park and blowing nose. She is having an allergic reaction, a common spring health concern for seniors.

Spring Health Concerns for Seniors

Bethesda Health | April 14, 2021

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:

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:

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.

Sun Exposure

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:

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.

Recommendations:

Dehydration

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:

Serious dehydration symptoms:

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.

Heat Stress

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:

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related condition. Symptoms include:

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:

Spring Benefits

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.

Related Articles

Two older women walking in a part to stay energized

How Older Adults Can Stay Energized

Vitality. Enthusiasm. Vibrant. Do these words reflect who you are as a senior adult? Just because you are aging doesn’t mean you have to… Read More

Top Tips for Preparing Seniors for Winter in St. Louis

While winter is a time for hot chocolate and silly hats for some people, it can also cause many problems for seniors living in… Read More

The little-known effects of Parkinson's disease include hallucinations and dellusions

The Little-Known Effects of Parkinson’s Disease

When Dan Cotton regularly started seeing his brother sitting next to him in the passenger seat of his car, it was usually just out… Read More

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.