Diagnosing and managing adult asthma
May 2, 2022
As spring brings more outdoor activities and pollinating plants, it’s a peak season for asthma and allergies. This Asthma Awareness Month, Dr. Tina Bradley shares about this common condition as it relates to adult-onset asthma.
Getting asthma as an adult
Although many people first develop asthma during childhood, asthma symptoms can occur at
any time in life. Several factors may make someone more likely to develop adult-onset asthma.
Women are more likely to develop asthma after the age of 20 than men, so hormonal
fluctuations may play a role, with many women experiencing their first attack during pregnancy
Adult-onset asthma can also be triggered by allergies. Exposure to allergens or irritants such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, mold, dust or other substances commonly found in our environment might trigger the first asthma symptoms. Different illnesses, viruses or infections can also be a factor in adult-onset asthma. Other risk factors are a family history of asthma and being overweight.
Adult-onset asthma can differ from childhood asthma in that childhood asthma is more often
characterized by intermittent flare-ups, whereas adult-onset asthma tends to have more
persistent symptoms that may require daily medications to keep under control.
Asthma symptoms and diagnosis
Asthma symptoms can include:
- Dry cough, especially at night or in response to “triggers” such as an allergen or exercise
- Tightness or pressure in the chest
- Wheezing, which is like a whistling sound, when exhaling
- Shortness of breath after exercise or physical exertion
- Difficulty breathing
- Colds that go to the chest or seem to “hang on” for 10 days or more
To diagnose asthma, your physician will question you about your symptoms and perform a
physical exam. You may be scheduled for additional testing like a chest X-ray and pulmonary
function testing. Pulmonary function testing is like a stress test for your lungs so your physician
can see how your lungs are performing. Also during this testing, they will check to see how your
lungs respond to medications.
Your primary care physician may be able to manage your asthma. If needed, you may be referred to an allergist for allergy testing or a pulmonologist if your asthma is more difficult to manage.
Environmental factors in our area
We see a lot of asthma in Southern Indiana. We are actually in what is called the Ohio Valley Asthma Belt, with Southern Indiana usually falling in the top 10 of the asthma capitals in the US.
Factors in our area that affect this include:
- A high presence of allergens such as pollen and mold
- Poor air quality and pollution
- Humidity and extreme temperature changes
It helps to pay attention to those weather reports and reduce outdoor activities when the pollen count or ozone level is high.
Managing your asthma
Although there is no cure for most types of adult asthma, if you manage your asthma, you can
expect to lead a normal life. Here are the steps I’d recommend to take.
- Educate yourself about asthma.
- Take your medications as prescribed. Take your daily preventive inhaler even if you feel well.
- Check your lung status at home using what is called a peak flow meter. Asthma patients can often detect lung changes with their peak flow meter even before they develop symptoms, allowing for early intervention.
- Visit your physician regularly to make sure you are on the best maintenance therapy.
- Make an asthma management plan with your physician. A plan will establish guidelines for what you can do if your asthma symptoms get worse.
- Always keep an up-to-date rescue inhaler on hand.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke, talk to your physician about helping you quit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
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