What Is Adult-Onset Asthma?
Although most cases of asthma are diagnosed in childhood, the condition can develop at any stage of life. An estimated 17 million adults in the United States have asthma, and if you’re diagnosed with the disease after age 20, it’s considered adult-onset asthma.
Unfortunately, getting asthma as an adult can be worse than getting it as a child. Like most parts of our body, our lungs change as we get older. They don’t take in and expel as much air as they did when we were younger. While asthma symptoms tend to be sporadic in children, they can be ongoing in adults, requiring more management and even daily medication in some cases.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease. It causes your airways, specifically your airway linings, to swell and produce large amounts of thick mucus. Contractions of the muscles surrounding the airways constrict them even more, making it difficult to get air in and out of the lungs.
As a result of this inflammation and narrowing of your airways, asthma symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent coughing, especially at night
- Wheezing when you breathe
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing in general
Adult-onset asthma vs. childhood asthma
Unlike childhood asthma, a family history is not associated with adult-onset asthma. This chronic condition can be the result of allergies, workplace irritants, or home irritants. Symptoms of adult-onset asthma are often attributed to other conditions, and as a result, they are commonly overlooked and incorrectly diagnosed.
Because it often goes untreated, adult-onset asthma is more dangerous than childhood asthma. In fact, studies also show that death rates are substantially higher in adult-onset asthma than in childhood asthma.
Who gets adult-onset asthma?
While childhood asthma is more common in boys, adult-onset asthma is more prevalent in women. Other factors that make it more likely that you’ll develop adult-onset asthma include:
- Being obese or overweight
- Hormonal changes, such as those that occur around childbirth and menopause
- Allergies to cats
- Taking estrogen following menopause for 10 years or longer
- Contracting certain illnesses, viruses, or infections
What should you do if you think you have adult-onset asthma?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, don’t write them off as just being tired or having a cold. You should schedule an appointment with Dr. Richard Herrscher at AIR Care Allergy, Immunology and Respiratory Care for a proper diagnosis.
If you’re diagnosed with asthma, taking certain steps to manage your condition can help you live a normal life:
Create a plan
Creating an asthma care management plan with Dr. Herrscher can help you prepare for a variety of situations that may arise because of your condition.
Know your medications
If you’re taking any medications for other conditions, be sure to discuss them with Dr. Herrscher or your pharmacist to make sure they won’t create any dangerous drug interactions with your asthma medications.
Take your medications
Take your prescription medications as directed, even if you’re feeling well. Let Dr. Herrscher or your pharmacist know if you’re experiencing any side effects.
Monitor your symptoms
A peak flow meter tracks how well your lungs are functioning as well as any changes in your airways that may signal your symptoms are getting worse. Learn how to use a peak flow monitor at home and track your lung function daily. This helps Dr. Herrscher make adjustments to your treatment plan to maximize your health.
Visit your doctor regularly
It’s important to come in for further testing, so Dr. Herrscher can make adjustments to your medication and your care plan, if necessary.
Avoid allergy triggers
If allergens contribute to your asthma in your home, workplace, or environment, take steps to minimize your exposure to those allergens by allergy-proofing your home or office and keeping a watch on the pollen count before you venture outdoors.