by Melanie Chong, MD, Allergy & Immunology Clinic
It’s not always allergies
Environmental allergies to things like mold, dust, animal dander and pollen from trees, grasses and weeds can continue or develop as we get older. However, these triggers are generally outgrown with age. In fact, environmental allergies account for only 30% of cases for runny nose, nasal congestion and post-nasal drip in those over 54 years of age.
Non-allergic factors may be causing the problem
Most nasal symptoms in older adults are not caused by environmental allergies. Age-related changes in the sinus and nasal cavity can lead to thicker mucus, a weakened nasal bridge and less blood flow to the nasal lining—all contributing to congestion, dryness and drainage. Our nasal mucous membranes can also become more sensitive to environmental irritants and fluctuations. Symptoms can be continuous, intermittent or seasonal. Non-allergic environmental triggers include:
- Weather changes (temperature, humidity fluctuations)
- Altitude changes
- Strong fragrances and chemicals
- Smoke and pollutants
Drippy nose while eating?
Some people report needing tissues in hand at every meal because their noses are like a dripping faucet. More common in seniors, this profusely runny nose while eating is called gustatory rhinitis and is not caused by food allergies. Instead this condition is a nerve reflex stimulated by alcohol and foods that are spicy, hot and cold.
Medication side effects
About 40% of Americans aged 65 years+ take more than five medications every day. Certain medications can have side effects leading to nasal congestion—some blood pressure medications and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications (i.e. ibuprofen) can be culprits. Nasal decongestants can also trigger congestion if used for an extended period of time.
Improve your quality of life by reducing uncomfortable nasal symptoms
The frustration from ongoing nasal symptoms can significantly impact our lives. Although not life-threatening, these symptoms can lead to poor sleep and an overall reduced quality of life. What should you do if you are experiencing uncomfortable nasal symptoms? A good start would be to see an allergist who can help to determine potential triggers. The appointment may require an allergy skin test which is quick and results are known at the same appointment. Once the cause is determined, your allergist can put together an effective treatment plan to help you breathe easier and improve the quality of your life.
Learn more about Melanie Chong, MD. Schedule a telehealth or in-person appointment with a Valley allergist. 425.690.3486
References: Baptist, Alan and Nyenhuis, Sharmilee. Rhinitis in the Elderly. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2016 May; 36(2): 343–357.