Allergies: Watch medication mix

Sometimes the workplace can follow you into retirement in the form of allergies and asthma. A lifetime of exposure to particular chemicals can result in allergic reactions. For example:

  • People who spent their lives in the medical profession will sometimes develop an allergy to the latex used in hospital gloves.
  • A career in the paint or plastics business can result in an allergy to isocyanides, catalysts commonly used in those industries.
  • Even naturally occurring chemicals in red cedar can cause problems for lumber and forestry workers.

However, if you’ve made it through your working years without developing an occupational allergy, there’s little chance one will show up after you retire.

Insect venom risk
Many allergies become less severe with age, but there’s one that can pose a greater threat – a reaction to insect venom, such as bee stings.

“Insect venom can pose an additional risk if a person has cardiac problems,” says Dr. Eric Leith, President of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Reaction to a sting can put additional strain on the heart. And in the case of an anaphylactic retion, the treatment must be used with caution. Anaphylaxis is treated with an injection of adrenalin, often using a device such as the EpiPen.

Unfortunately, adrenalin also speeds up the heart rate and can result in a heart attack in less healthy individuals. If you have heart problems and carry an EpiPen or similar device for allergies, it’s vital that you use it only in truly life threatening situations, Dr. Leith says. Make sure your doctor gives you clear instructions about when and how to use it.

Steroids work well
One of the best weapons in the modern fight against allergies and asthma is corticosteroids. These hormones reduce inflammation, much the same way cortisone cream takes away a skin rash.

You’ll find it in inhaled controller medications for asthma. While steroids work well, the few side effects may be of special concern to seniors. Over the long term, they can cause:

  • Loss of bone mass
  • Thinning of skin
  • An increase in blood pressure.

Still, the benefits far outweigh the risks. So adults using steroids should get a bone density test every two years and have their blood pressure checked regularly.

Next page: Drug clash

Drug clash
A bigger concern is the possible interaction of allergy and asthma medications with other drugs. Some examples:

  • Compounds called beta-blockers commonly used in blood pressure drugs, glaucoma eye drops and even some headache remedies can make asthma and allergies worse.

  • Blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors can cause a cough that can intensify asthma symptoms
  • Some antihistamines meant to fight allergic reactions can interfere with heart drugs
  • Some antihistamines and some antibiotics can cause liver problems
  • Aspirin and some related drugs can worsen asthma for some people
  • Sleeping pills and tranquilizers can make you breath slower and less deeply, a condition that can be dangerous to lung problems such as asthma
  • To avoid adverse drug reactions, write a list of all the drugs you’re taking. Bring it with you when you visit the doctor and let your pharmacist know which other drugs you’re taking when you get a prescription filled.