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Asthma in Older Adults

You can get asthma as an older adult even if you’ve never had it before. These are the special concerns of asthma in older adults:

  • It may be more difficult to diagnose.

  • It can be hard to tell asthma from other conditions that are more common in older adults. For instance, wheezing can occur in asthma and heart failure. And a long-term cough can occur in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both heart failure and COPD are more common as people get older.

It’s important to know for sure that you have asthma. That’s because the treatment of asthma and these other diseases is very different.

Asthma symptoms

If you have any of the following symptoms, see your health care provider. Your provider will ask you a lot of questions, do a physical exam, and probably order some tests. These can be symptoms of asthma:

  • Coughing, especially at night

  • Wheezing

  • Chest tightness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Breathing faster than normal

  • Getting out of breath easily

  • Feeling tired or weak

The symptoms above may also be from other lung problems, heart problems, or infections. They can also be symptoms of many other conditions.

Treating asthma

Here are common ways that asthma is treated.

Avoid asthma triggers

One of the most important parts of treatment is staying away from the things that cause your asthma symptoms. Examples of these are:

  • Allergens like pollen and dust

  • Irritants like cigarette smoke from smoking or from secondhand smoke and air pollution. Smokers should think about quitting.

Medicine

You may need to take oral or inhaled medicines.

Self-care

Staying away from triggers and taking medications as you are told are part of self-care for asthma. So is carefully watching for symptoms that get worse. You need to know what to do to stop symptoms from getting worse.

Overall good health

Get about 8 hours of sleep each night. Exercise or be active about 30 minutes on most days, stay engaged with family and friends, and keep up-to-date on recommended vaccinations. Eat healthy. That means:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables

  • 100% whole grains

  • Lean meats and fish

  • Low-fat milk, cheeses, and other dairy products

  • Limited alcohol use

Specialist care

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you see other healthcare providers. For example, you may need to see an allergist or lung specialist (pulmonologist).

Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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