Asthma is a condition that affects approximately 25 million Americans. Though many who suffer from asthma are diagnosed at a young age, there are a large number of people who develop adult-onset asthma who may never have had breathing issues as kids.
In this post, we’ll review what asthma is; determine the distinctions between childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma; share common triggers and symptoms; and provide information about treatments as well as where to get help for asthma in Western Washington Medical Group.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that occurs when a person’s airways swell and narrow, and may also produce more mucus than normal. This results in shortness of breath and greater difficulty breathing, which can trigger wheezing and coughing. In some people, asthma is an easily managed, minor condition; for others it can impact daily life and cause asthma attacks, which in the most severe cases, although rarely, can be fatal.
Differences Between Childhood and Adult-onset Asthma
Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children. Childhood asthma is more common in males and impacts African American children more than any other ethnic group.
Adult-onset asthma is more prevalent in females and is also more common in African Americans. Patients with adult asthma have more persistent symptoms and are also five times more likely to die than children with asthma.
What causes Adult Asthma?
Most cases of adult asthma are triggered by allergies to things such as pets, dust, and mold, or exposure to environmental chemicals or cigarette smoke in a home or workplace. Hormonal changes in women can also be a factor, as many patients develop asthma after a pregnancy or during menopause. Illnesses, viruses and infections can also lead to adult-onset asthma.
Symptoms of Adult Asthma
Symptoms of adult-onset asthma are very similar to that of childhood asthma. They can include any or all of the following:
- Dry cough
- Nighttime cough
- Cough after laughter
- Wheezing/whistling (when exhaling)
- Pressure or tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath (especially after physical activity and exercise)
- Colds that have a duration past 10 days
- Difficulty breathing (inability to take deep breaths)
- Trouble sleeping due to inconsistent breathing, which can lead to fatigue
To determine if you have adult asthma, your healthcare provider will inquire about your medical history and may perform a lung function test, to see how fast you can empty air from your lungs. They may also perform a methacholine challenge test, which will cause your airways to narrow and spasm if you indeed have asthma. These tests allow your healthcare provider to make an official diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with asthma, you may be classified in one of four categories, based on the frequency and severity of your symptoms: mild intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent. This classification can help determine the best course of treatment.
Treatments for Childhood and Adult Asthma
Though there is no cure for asthma, it is a manageable condition once a proper diagnosis has been made.
If you have adult-onset asthma, your doctor will create what is known as an “asthma action plan” to help you navigate your treatment.
Common treatments include medications such as anti-inflammatories, which reduce swelling in airways and help control and prevent asthma flares. Bronchodilators can also be effective in relaxing the muscle bands that secure the airways, allowing for more air to get in and out of the lungs. These medications are often taken orally or via an inhaler. Breathing exercises and natural remedies also may help reduce symptoms.
Where to get help for Childhood or Adult Asthma
For adults or children, asthma can have a big impact on daily life. Managing symptoms, and avoiding or minimizing asthma attacks, is important to improving one’s quality of life. Having the support of a caring healthcare provider can make all the difference.
If you or a loved one need help managing asthma symptoms, or would like assistance from a WWMG healthcare professional to create an asthma action plan, contact Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice to schedule an appointment. For more general inquiries, use the form on this page. We look forward to helping you.