We’ve received numerous questions regarding age and allergy treatment. We’ve heard from older individuals who have never been tested or treated for allergy who are now interested, but wonder am I too old for allergy treatment? The simple answer is NO, you are never too old to take hold of your allergies. The precise answer is offered by Chet Tharpe, MD, ABIM, ABAI, board certified allergist at Allergy Associates of La Crosse (AAOL).
Where did this thought come from?
Dr. Tharpe explains that the theme of “immunosenescence” or gradual change of the immune system with age, away from a more allergic state is not very relevant clinically. “In my training, we were less likely to test an older patient for allergy because we were taught that as the patient ages, the likelihood that they have allergy decreases,” he says. “Now, regardless of age, if a patient has a clear history of allergy, they should be tested because more often than not, the testing will confirm their symptoms and lead to a diagnosis. And if it can be diagnosed, it can totally be treated.” Dr. Tharpe explains that while immunosenescence is taught in textbooks, it doesn’t translate to each and every individual patient, and he often sees patients in their 70s and 80s with obvious diagnosable allergy that can be treated.
Medicine and medical research has progressed immensely, even within the past 20 years. “There used to be this thought process where if you were elderly, you were excluded from procedures such as heart transplants, but that’s completely irrelevant now. Some 80 year olds are like 60 year olds, health wise,” he explains, “The bottom line is, if you have classic signs and symptoms of allergy, it can be diagnosed, and you’re never going to know unless you test it.”
Why treat allergies now?
Some patients may have suffered most of their lives and have never received treatment, while others may have developed a new allergy over time. Dr. Tharpe says, “You can definitely develop allergy over time. There is a subset of patients that we see in their 30s or 40s, maybe in their 50s, and they’ll tell you they’ve never had symptoms and all of a sudden, boom.” Being exposed to new allergens or undergoing bodily changes – such as pregnancy – can cause the immune system to change and behave differently than it did previously. Basically, people can develop an allergy to anything at any time.
The only way to treat the allergy itself, not just the symptoms, is with immunotherapy. The benefits of starting allergy treatment later in life are just as plentiful as they are when starting treatment as a child — as symptoms can needlessly make people miserable at any age.
For older adults, specifically, there are distinct benefits to sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), or allergy drops, over other methods:
- Allergy drops, compared to allergy shots, require fewer office visits. Treatment is administered from wherever you are; therefore only “check in” appointments are required every few months initially and eventually once or twice yearly. This dramatically reduces the amount of doctors’ visits.
- Allergy drops reduce the need for antihistamines or other allergy medications. The goal of SLIT is to alter the immune response to the allergen, so once treatment is completed, there should be minimal, or no, symptoms when exposed to the allergen, reducing the need for allergy medication. Less medication means fewer side effects and potential interactions with other medications.
- The drops are made of natural ingredients that are unlikely to interfere with other medications, making it a safe substance that works toward allergen tolerance.
- While severe allergic reactions do happen (though rarely) with allergy shots, there has never been a life threatening or anaphylactic reaction reported from SLIT using the La Crosse Method Protocol, advocated by Allergychoices. Patients may feel mild, short-term allergy symptoms like mouth itching or watering, but that’s typically the extent of it.
Not only can older individuals start allergy treatment, they do
A 2006 study shows that after undergoing SLIT treatment using sublingual immunotherapy following the La Crosse Method Protocol, patients over 65 had very positive results. These patients reported:
- 58% fewer number of related doctor visits
- 58% fewer allergy-related ER visits
- 75% fewer allergy-related hospitalizations
- 13% fewer allergy-related medication
- 61% fewer school/work days missed
- And a quality of life improvement of 4.2
Dr. Tharpe notes that his oldest patient is 89-years-old, truly proving that any time is a great time to start treatment and take control of your allergies. and/or learn about who are good candidates for allergy drop treatment.
By Taylor Pasell, Allergychoices