Everything You Need to Know about Adult Onset Asthma


With an alarming increase in the number of patients with adult onset asthma, it is important to have enough knowledge about the illness, its varied causes, prevention, and correct treatment.

In general, asthma is detected in early childhood. However, in certain cases, an individual beyond the age of 20 years may be diagnosed with asthma, this condition is termed as adult onset asthma. Symptoms of asthma can occur at any point of time in life, and not necessarily only during childhood.

Asthma is a disease where the sensitive airways have increased responsiveness towards various kinds of triggers such as allergens and irritants that obstruct the functioning of the airways. The muscles around the airways begin to contract and narrow the airway lining. The lining inside the airways experiences inflammation that causes the inner lining to swell up and secrete increased levels of mucus. This then causes extreme difficulty, and asthma symptoms such as coughing, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

Depending on the severity of the illness, the types of adult onset asthma are categorized as:

  • Mild intermittent asthma
  • Mild persistent asthma
  • Moderate persistent asthma
  • Severe persistent asthma

Adults have lowered lung capacity, which means that the volume of air that one can inhale and exhale within a second is much lower as compared to when they were younger. This also occurs due to the stiffening of chest walls and changes in the muscle structure after reaching middle age. Due to this decreased capacity, adult onset asthma often goes unnoticed by various doctors. Diagnoses can be done for adult onset asthma by investigating the patient’s medical history, clarifying the symptoms, and by using a spirometer to perform a lung functioning test.

There are several triggers that lead to severe asthma attacks, such as climatic changes (dry/cold environments), vigorous exercises, hormonal changes, exposure to dust, animals, etc.

Symptoms of Adult Onset Asthma

Symptoms of adult onset asthma include wheezing (which means breathing with a rattling sound in the chest), breathlessness, continuous coughing especially during the night and early in the morning. Other symptoms for adult onset asthma are tightening sensation in the chest, and development of mucus that is higher than normal levels due to the obstruction that is caused by any form of allergen irritating the airway.

Causes of Adult Onset Asthma

Most of the adults who have been diagnosed with adult onset asthma are triggered by different types of allergens. Often people allergic to animals (especially cats) have a high risk of developing adult onset asthma. It is on record that almost 30 percent of adults are diagnosed with adult onset asthma due to allergies.

In the case of women, hormonal changes play a major role in the development of adult onset asthma. Certain women are diagnosed with this disease during their pregnancy, and sometimes even post pregnancy. Symptoms of adult onset asthma begin to show up more prominently among women going through menopause as well. Sometimes even a stubborn cold or bad flu could be a factor that leads to adult onset asthma.

Prevention of Adult Onset Asthma

There are several ways in which an attack can be prevented by making conscious efforts to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. Exposure to dust can cause damage to the airways by causing inflammation. Avoiding stress and anxiety is another way to prevent adult onset asthma, as is avoiding vigorous exercises that would worsen the condition and lead to difficulties in breathing. Avoid any area that has smoke. The presence of pets in the house can encourage an asthma attack, particularly if you are allergic to cat/dog hair.

Treatment of Adult Onset Asthma

Often, adult onset asthma is a disease that can only be controlled as there is no guaranteed cure. The best way to understand the treatment of this disease is by monitoring the functioning of the lungs through various medical examinations. If the disease is not treated at an early stage, it may lead to serious damage to the lungs that could dangerously hamper its functioning. With age, the capacity of the lung deteriorates, and hence, adult onset asthma is often overlooked by various doctors. The treatment of adult onset asthma involves prescribed medication from the physician (two types of medicines often given to patients are anti-inflammatory drugs and bronchodilators), medical tests, balanced diet, and a focused plan to avoid all allergens and triggers.