The Asthma-Gender Connection

Did you know that asthma actually discriminates by age and by sex? And while this may sound surprising, it is actually the finding of several recent studies. In childhood, boys are more likely to suffer from this chronic lung condition than their female peers. But in an ironic twist, in adulthood, the tables suddenly turn, and after the age of 18, it seems that the percentage of women with asthma greatly outweigh the men.

The Asthma-Gender Difference

A new study that will be released in an upcoming issue of the Chest Journal calls attention to the asthma gender relationship. Researchers looking at the asthma gender link report that nearly two out of three children who suffer from severe asthma symptoms are male, while two out of three adults with severe asthma are females. So what prompts this dramatic asthma gender difference?

Why Females May Be Susceptible

Experts from the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, who conducted the research to appear in Chest, admit that they aren't quite sure exactly what happens when it comes to changing asthma symptoms based on sex. One hypothesis, though, is that the relationship could have something to do with the size difference in men and women's lungs. As boys grow into men, their lungs may become less susceptible to the symptoms. Women, on the other hand, may become more prone to them. And complicating things even more is the fact that female hormones could make women more likely to be affected by asthma. But while this can help to explain the asthma gender adult differences, it doesn't account for why at a young age, boys are more prone to experience asthma symptoms.

Why Asthma Occurs More in Boys

To help answer this question, another study, this one conducted by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital, which was recently published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, looked at the asthma gender connection in children. These patients studied had mild to moderate symptoms. The researchers looking at this group discovered that while boys definitely experience higher rates of asthma than girls, the switch occurs when they hit puberty, when they were around 11 to 12 years old. These researchers also speculated that hormonal changes could be to blame for the changes in asthma gender symptoms, although in younger children, they dismissed difference lung size as playing a part in the differences that exist.

What the Findings Mean

While the data of both of these studies identify some of the gender differences, exactly why and how they occur is still not clear. But the findings of both studies, as well as the results of other current and ongoing research, will enable doctors to help patients to control their asthma symptoms appropriately as they age. For males, this may include cutting down or eliminating medication if symptoms seem to lessen or disappear over time. For females, it may mean increasing treatment over time if symptoms flare.

It is also worth noting that for adult males whose asthma seems to lessen over time, it is important not to become too complacent. Another researcher has noticed that men whose asthma symptoms improve in their 20s may experience an increase in asthma symptoms in their 40s and beyond, calling attention to the need to condition to closely monitor asthma even when symptoms seem well controlled.




American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
Tantisira K, et al "Airway responsiveness in mild to moderate childhood asthma sex influences on the natural history"Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2008; 178: 325-31.

Chest Journal