Challenges of Asthma in Older Adults

Are you an older adult grappling with respiratory symptoms? If so, you could have asthma and not even know it. While most people think of asthma as a childhood disease, a growing number of older folks are being diagnosed with this chronic condition. And yet many of them overlook the signs assuming they're just a normal part of aging.

Challenges in Asthma in Older Adults

Wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness are all symptoms to take seriously, regardless of how old you are. And while asthma is one possible cause of these discomforts, it can also be the result of a number of other ailments that affect many seniors including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), sinus infections, bronchitis, and congestive heart failure. This finding was presented by researchers from Northwestern University at an American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting in 2010.

A complicating factor for older adults with undiagnosed asthma is that some  only experience coughing without the range of other asthma symptoms. Also, seniors with asthma often don't respond as well to asthma treatments as younger people so many older people are left to suffer with untreated asthma.

How to Manage Asthma and Aging

If you're a senior grappling with asthma symptoms, (or perhaps you're caring for an older family member who has it) be your own advocate and get the right diagnosis. Work closely with your doctor to develop an effective asthma treatment strategy that's appropriate for your age and your health status.

Talk to your doctor about your other medical concerns, since asthma treatments can cause more severe side effects on aging people. For example, long-term corticosteroid use has been linked to osteoporosis, and some asthma medications can also cause an irregular heartbeat, so you'll need to weigh the risks and benefits.  

There's always the possibility that your asthma treatments could be interacting with other medications you're taking. So work with your doctor or pharmacist to identify potential dangers that may exist.


Frieri, Marianna. "Seniors and Asthma: Hurdles to Diagnosing and Treating Asthma in Seniors." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. AAAAI, 2007. Web. 17 July 2011.

Saltoun, CA, et al. "Asthma in the Elderly." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. AAAAI, 2010. Web. 17 July 2011.