Can adults develop asthma?

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Sep. 01, 2019

Asthma is usually diagnosed in children. However, anyone can develop asthma – even older adults.

Asthma is a respiratory condition that makes breathing difficult. Exposure to various irritants and substances can “trigger” asthma. These include pollen, air pollution, medications, and even exercise. Triggers cause airways to narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, most childhood asthma disappears in adulthood. So, what causes adults to develop asthma, also called adult-onset asthma? The answer is not always known. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America states that 30 percent of adult asthma cases are triggered by allergies. People who are allergic to cats, for example, may have an increased risk for developing adult-onset asthma. Additionally, different illnesses, viruses, or infections can be a factor for developing adult-onset asthma.

Adults have a higher risk for developing asthma if they are female (due to hormonal fluctuations); overweight or obese; or are exposed to allergens, such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, mold, or dust.

Adults with asthma have an increased risk for flare-ups, and even hospitalization, due to the following reasons:

  • Asthma medications can be less effective later in life.
  • Oral steroids can worsen glaucoma, cataracts, and osteoporosis.
  • Beta-blockers for heart problems can increase the severity of asthma.
  • The muscles supporting deep breathing are weaker in adults.

There is no cure for asthma. However, symptoms can be controlled by avoiding known triggers that cause an individual’s asthma attack, taking the proper medications, and using a fast-relief inhaler (bronchodilator).

Contact your healthcare provider if you or someone you know is experiencing asthma symptoms.

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