While most people who suffer from asthma experience symptoms early in life,
the disease develops at any age. It’s not uncommon for adults in
their 70s or 80s to develop asthma symptoms, which can become a serious
health problem. According to a new review in Allergy older adults are
five times more likely to die from an asthma attack than younger patients.
Asthma is a chronic airway disease that inflames and narrows the airways.
While asthma symptoms vary from person to person, those who have suffered
from an attack won’t forget the signs:
• Difficulty catching breath
• Coughing and/or wheezing
• Rapid breathing
• Tightness in chest or pain
• Fast heart rate
Some asthmas sufferers have specific triggers that create flare-ups:
• Exercise-induced asthma is seen in asthmatics who show symptoms
during physical exertion. It may also worsen when the air is cold and dry.
• Occupational asthma occurs when symptoms are triggered by workplace
irritants such as chemical fumes, gases or dust.
• Allergy-induced asthma is triggered by airborne substances, such
as pollen, mold spores, cockroach waste pet dander. These are the most
common allergies, but the list is endless and could even include food
Asthma tends to be fairly easy to diagnosis in younger patients while evidence
suggests that older asthmatics are more likely to be under-diagnosed and
under-treated. This happens for a number of reasons. First of all, an
elderly patient who has never shown asthma symptoms can easily be misdiagnosed
with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as both diseases overlap
in patients. Other health conditions may also mask asthma symptoms.
The natural aging process also makes asthma difficult to detect in older
patients. As we advance in years, our lungs become less elastic, chest
walls more rigid, and muscles that power the respiratory system weaken,
which all worsen breathing problems. The immune system’s response
to inflammation also begins to wane. Therefore, an increase in breathing
problems or coughing is common as we age and often times shrugged off.
All asthma sufferers are encouraged to work with their doctor to monitor
and keep symptoms under control. Older asthmatics may want to be particularly
cognizant of any changes. Shifts in patterns of inflammation and other
biological changes can reduce a patient’s response to medications.
Additionally, there is mounting evidence that suggests traditional asthma
therapies may not be as effective on elderly asthmatic patients.
If you are asthmatic and your symptoms are worsening, or if you think you
may be showing symptoms for the first time, it’s important you talk
with your doctor. There are a variety of tests and factors your physician
can use to rule out other possible conditions. In the meantime, there
are lifestyle tips you can implement to prevent and relieve symptoms.
Avoid triggers by taking the following steps:
• Use an air conditioner. By using an air conditioner, indoor humidity
lowers, reducing exposure to dust mites. It also decreases the amount
of airborne pollen, grasses and weeds that find their way inside.
• Decrease the dust that accumulates indoors. Use dustproof covers
on pillows, mattresses and box springs. Replace carpet with hardwood or
linoleum flooring. You can also purchase washable curtains and blinds.
• If humidity is an issue, talk to your doctor about a dehumidifier.
• Prevent mold spores from developing by keeping damps areas of the
house clean, such as the bathroom and kitchen, and removed any damp leaves
or firewood in the yard.
• If you are allergic to pet dander, avoid animals with feathers or
fur and have pets regularly bathed and groomed.
• Asthmatics who are triggered by cold or dry air are encouraged to
wear a face mask when outdoors.
• Keeping a weekly house cleaning schedule can also help. Be sure
to wear a mask if you are sensitive to dust or have someone else do the cleaning.
Finally, staying healthy is a major factor in keeping your asthma under
control. Be sure to get regular exercise to help strengthen your heart
and lungs. Additionally, keeping a healthy weight helps prevent worsening
symptoms and complications.
You might not be able to change the fact you have asthma, but you can take
control of it.
-- You can reach
St. Mary’s Medical Center at 816-228-5900.