If you think you’re too old to develop asthma, think again. While many people develop asthma in childhood, the condition can appear at any stage of life.
Unfortunately, some cases of adult-onset asthma may go undiagnosed. Most adults naturally have a decrease in lung capacity after middle age, which may lead you to overlook asthma as a possible source of breathing problems. Asthma can also mimic the symptoms of illnesses that appear in older adults such as hiatal hernia, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Left untreated, asthma can cause an even greater loss of lung function. Your best defense is to learn how to recognize the disease so you can seek help to manage it.
What causes asthma to develop later in life isn’t known, though factors such as heredity, allergies, certain illnesses and viruses, obesity, hormonal fluctuations in women and exposure to certain household cleaners have been linked to increased risks. Symptoms include:
- a wheezing sound when you breathe (sometimes only when you have a cold)
- a dry cough, especially at night or in response to allergic triggers; the cough may also produce mucus
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- chest colds or colds that last for 10 days or more
Adults who are newly diagnosed with asthma usually have persistent symptoms and may need daily doses of asthma medicine.
If you have asthma, two written plans for how to manage your asthma—daily and emergency plans—can provide peace of mind.
- A daily self-management plan outlines the steps needed to control and monitor your asthma and includes a list of medications and instructions on how to take them.
- An asthma action plan describes how to prevent and treat sudden asthma attacks, as well as when you should seek help. If you aren’t sure what to put in the plans, ask your healthcare provider to help you draft them. When you have the plans in place, share them with someone who could help during an emergency. Keep copies in your wallet or purse in case you’re away from home when the next attack occurs.