Most people assume asthma is a condition that begins in childhood and either continues or eventually abates with time. Many individuals have heard of a person eventually outgrowing asthma and no longer needing medications or other interventions. However, in some cases, an individual can develop asthma later in life.
What is asthma?
Affecting approximately 1 in 13 people in the US, asthma is a disease that impacts a person’s respiratory system. The condition is often identified by the wheezing caused when the airways in an individual’s lungs are constricted, making breathing difficult. Usually, asthma develops when people are younger. Although no cure currently exists for the disease, the condition can be well managed with medications and preventative measures.
Even though most people first begin exhibiting asthma symptoms in childhood, some individuals may not develop the condition until later in life. Adult-onset asthma typically occurs in older adults, such as people age 50 and older. Asthma that appears in adulthood can look different than the childhood variety. In particular, older adults may find that asthma symptoms are persistent rather than the temporary flare-ups kids experience. As a result, asthma that presents later in life may require daily medications to manage the condition properly.
Whereas childhood asthma is potentially risky for a wider swath of people, the subset is different in adulthood. Specifically, women over 20 are more likely to be diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. Additionally, comorbidities like obesity can increase a person’s risk. Unsurprisingly, having previously had asthma as a child can also be a predictor of the condition returning later in life.
Causes of asthma
Similar to children, allergies are one of the leading causes of developing asthma later in life. In particular, cat hair tends to be a prime culprit leading to adult asthma. Other common allergens, such as chemicals, cigarette smoke, dust, and mold, can also precipitate the respiratory condition. Some experts believe potential hormonal changes in women during certain life stages, including pregnancy or menopause, may also encourage asthma.
For most people, regardless of age, asthma-related symptoms are the same. Common factors include a dry cough, especially after exposure to triggers. The cough may be worse at night. A wheezing sound can be heard when a person exhales. People may experience tightness in the chest, especially after engaging in physical exercise. Finally, individuals with adult-onset asthma may feel as if colds or flu take longer to clear, sometimes as much as 10 days or more.
Be proactive about asthma
Although asthma can be managed, the condition can be dangerous if left untreated. Many people require a combination of medications and proactive lifestyle changes to keep the disease under control. Along with taking medication, focus on creating an environment free from common triggers such as pollen or dust. If necessary, be sure to have a rescue inhaler nearby for when flare-ups do occur. People with adult-onset asthma should work with a respiratory specialist to create a customized treatment plan to preserve the quality of life.