In recent years, an increasing number of people have reported suffering from chronic allergies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Baby Boomers, born between l946 and l964, are among those plagued with stuffy and runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezing, and other allergy symptoms.
However, many in this age group haven’t had the opportunity to see if immunotherapy (better known as allergy shots) can help. That’s because doctors, as well as patients, have long assumed allergy shots aren’t appropriate or useful for older folks. As we age, the likelihood of having one or more chronic diseases can make the management of allergies like allergic rhinitis (as also called hay fever) a challenge, according to the ACAAI.
However, research has now shown allergy shots are not only appropriate for many Baby Boomers with allergy symptoms, they can also offer dramatic relief. One study found allergy shots reduced symptoms in older people by over half after three years of therapy. What’s more, Baby Boomers treated with immunotherapy were able to decrease the amount of medication needed to relieve symptoms of seasonal allergies by 64 percent.
"It's important that allergy treatment methods commonly used in young people are also investigated for use in older patients," said Gailen Marshall, MD, PhD, who heads the division of clinical immunology and allergy at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "More and more allergists are expanding the age limit for allergy shots as the Baby Boomer generation enters their senior years."
In all, more than 50 million Americans of all ages suffer from allergies each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many, spring is the season that brings the most sneezing, burning eyes, and even asthma symptoms, as flowers and other plants thrive and spread pollen. But symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis also occur in summer and fall, depending on what triggers your allergies, including pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds.
In addition, if you have perennial allergic rhinitis, you can have symptoms year-round. Perennial allergic rhinitis is generally caused by sensitivity to house dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold spores, the ACAAI points out.
For many people, over-the-counter medications relieve milder allergy symptoms. Others may need prescription-strength drugs. And allergy shots are another alternative, especially when allergy symptoms are chronic and impact the quality of your life.
First, an allergist performs skin and sometimes blood tests to identify specific things that cause your allergic reactions. If the results show you are selectively sensitive to several allergies, allergy shots can often reduce or even rid you of hay fever and other allergy symptoms.
Immunotherapy involves injections of gradually increasing doses of a substance, or allergen, that produces allergic symptoms. While this takes multiple treatments over months to years, the results are an immune system that’s less reactive to allergy-causing substances you encounter in the future. Immunotherapy also reduces the inflammation that’s associated with rhinitis and asthma, according to the ACAAI.
If allergy symptoms are bothersome, talk to your doctor to see if you are a candidate for allergy shots. And if you are allergic to pollen and other allergens, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences advises keeping windows closed and using air conditioning. Avoid the outdoors, when possible, during the peak times when pollen counts are the highest, between 5a.m. and 10a.m., and on hot and windy days, too.
May 16, 2016
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA