Many people develop asthma as children and learn to live with and manage the condition by the time they are an adult. For a significant number of people, however, asthma can develop when they are middle-aged or older. When this happens it is called ‘adult onset asthma’. Since you have never had it before, it can be hard to know if you have developed asthma as an adult. So what are the signs and symptoms?
Signs and Symptoms
When someone develops adult onset asthma, the usual symptoms of asthma are often present. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Coughing fits
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry, irritating, persistent cough, particularly at night and early morning
In older adults these symptoms can resemble other illnesses or diseases. Conditions that may have similar symptoms to asthma include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and certain forms of heart disease. In order to correctly diagnose your condition your doctor or physician will ask you about your symptoms, conduct a physical exam and may test you for allergies and perform lung function tests. If you have asthma symptoms it is important to pay attention to them and get a diagnosis from a professional.
Why am I developing asthma now?
The reason for the development of asthma at various ages is still unclear. There are no answers as to why some people develop asthma at an early age, while others develop the condition when they are much older.
In some cases adult onset asthma is a recurrence of a mild childhood illness. Sometimes people have had asthma as a child but didn’t know because it was so mild or misdiagnosed as another illness, such as bronchitis. Other times people will know they had asthma as a kid but it may have disappeared at some point. For those who suffered from asthma as a child, it is possible that the condition will return again as an adult.
In many cases, however, adults who have never had asthma will develop the condition. In these cases it can be difficult for someone to realise they have asthma because they may mistake the symptoms for an infection or other illness. Although it may be hard to understand why a certain person has developed asthma for the first time, you can learn to understand the triggers.
Triggers are the factors that cause someone to suffer from the symptoms of asthma. If you develop asthma you should learn what your triggers are so that you can avoid them. The most common asthma triggers in both adults and children include:
- Both passive and active smoking
- Colds and flu
- Allergens: such as pollen, mould, dust mites
- Fumes and strong odours: such as perfume, petrol and factory fumes
- Medications: Including beta-blockers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Laughing and getting excited
- Cold air
- Foods: Some people are sensitive to certain foods, additives and preservatives.
Who is most likely to get adult onset asthma?
Those who are most likely to develop asthma include:
- Those with a family history of asthma
- People who are exposed to fumes and irritants daily
- Women who are experiencing hormonal changes due to factors such as pregnancy or menopause
- People who have had certain illnesses and viruses
- Obese people
- People with allergies
Asthma is usually not a problem for those who manage their condition well. In contrast to childhood asthma, adult onset asthma is more likely to be persistent and permanent rather than intermittent. It is therefore important that you learn to effectively manage your condition so that you can lead a normal and healthy life.
In order to create a management plan that is suitable for your particular case, you should discuss the best options with your doctor. If you have persistent asthma you will most likely be prescribed with a preventative medication by your doctor. As well as taking prescribed medication you should avoid triggers to reduce the risk of an asthma attack.
For more information about asthma read our ‘What is Asthma’ page.
Photography Credit: Debora Smail