June 14, 2022

Can You Develop Asthma As An Adult?

Many people with asthma develop it during childhood, though it is possible to develop asthma later in life as an adult. Knowing symptoms of adult-onset asthma can help you recognize when it may be time to see your doctor for treatment.

Can Adults Develop Asthma?

Asthma can develop in anyone at any age—including adults. Most people with asthma develop this condition during childhood, though symptoms can pop up later in life. In some instances, childhood asthma can disappear during your teen years and return later during adulthood.

What Is Adult-Onset Asthma?

Adult-onset asthma is asthma that develops after you turn 18 and become an adult. It can be asthma that is newly developed or asthma that returns after you had it as a child and your symptoms went away.

Asthma itself is a condition in which your airways become narrow and swollen and produce extra mucus. These effects can make it difficult for you to breathe and may also cause you to cough and wheeze.

Asthma is often triggered when you exercise or breathe in irritants like chemical fumes, pollen, or pet dander. These episodes are called “asthma attacks,” and can sometimes be prevented by avoiding the trigger. Avoiding triggers is often the most effective way to control and manage asthma.

What Are Symptoms Of Adult Asthma?

Symptoms of adult asthma are the same as those of asthma affecting any other age group. Asthma symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Wheezing when exhaling
  • Coughing or wheezing that gets worse with respiratory illnesses like the flu
  • Difficulty sleeping due to coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Colds that are felt in the chest, and that last for several days

What Causes Adult Asthma?

Researchers are not sure what causes adult-onset asthma. Some think it may be caused by repeated exposure to irritants like fumes in the workplace. Others think it may be caused by genetics or by pregnancy.

Common triggers that may cause adult asthma include:

  • Pet dander, such as from dogs or cats
  • Animal saliva
  • Smoke, particularly secondhand smoke
  • Mold and mildew
  • Dust mites
  • Air pollution
  • Pollen
  • Pillows and bedding with feathers
  • Cockroaches
  • Certain medications, including beta-blockers, aspirin, and ibuprofen
  • Dry air
  • Cold temperatures
  • Colds or respiratory infections
  • Excitement or emotional stress
  • Exercise

Some adults are more likely to develop adult-onset asthma than others. Factors that may increase your risk of getting asthma as an adult include:

  • Having allergies—especially to cats.
  • Being a woman and experiencing hormonal changes due to pregnancy or menopause.
  • Being a woman and taking estrogen hormone replacement therapy for at least 10 years following menopause.
  • Having recently had an illness such as the cold or flu.
  • Having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Being regularly exposed to air pollutants like mold or perfume.
  • Living with someone who smokes.
  • Having asthma earlier in life as a child.
  • Having relatives with asthma or allergies.
  • Being overweight or obese.

How To Test For Adult-Onset Asthma

Adult-onset asthma can usually be diagnosed with a physical exam and one or more breathing tests. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and when they happen the most. You may also be asked about your workplace, home environment, and lifestyle. For example, your doctor may ask whether you have any pets, whether you live with smokers, or if you work somewhere that exposes you to toxic fumes.

Next, your doctor may perform lung function tests. These are done to measure the amount of air that moves in and out as you breathe. You may also have an allergy test or an X-ray that allows your doctor to check for other illnesses and conditions that may be affecting your breathing.

Some symptoms of asthma are similar to those of other diseases and illnesses that are common in older adults. Hiatal hernia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease are some of many diseases with symptoms that are similar to those of asthma. Your doctor may perform other diagnostic tests to confirm or rule out these diseases if you have asthma symptoms.

How Can You Treat Adult-Onset Asthma?

If you are diagnosed with adult-onset asthma, your doctor will most likely work with you to create a detailed asthma action plan. An asthma action plan is an outline or set of instructions on what to do if your asthma gets out of control. It usually includes a list of medications you are taking for asthma, a list of triggers, and steps to take when you experience an asthma attack.

Adult asthma can be effectively treated and managed with medications. Medications for asthma include:

  • Corticosteroids, which can help reduce inflammation in the airways.
  • Bronchodilators, which are inhaled to help open the airways.
  • Leukotriene modifiers, which can help reduce your symptoms.
  • Theophylline, which can help relax the muscles around your airways to promote easier breathing.
  • Anticholinergic agents, which also relax the airways to make it easier to breathe.
  • Monoclonal antibody injections, which can block the body’s immune response to triggers.
  • Allergy medications, if asthma is being caused by allergens.

Adult-onset asthma can also be managed by avoiding the triggers that cause your symptoms. Steps you can take to manage adult asthma on your own include:

  • Quitting smoking, or avoiding secondhand smoke.
  • Losing excess weight.
  • Managing and reducing emotional stress and anxiety.
  • Cleaning your home regularly to reduce dust mites and pet dander.
  • Addressing mold and mildew problems in your home.
  • Staying indoors when pollen counts or air pollution is high.
  • Replacing feather bedding with non-feather bedding.
  • Using a humidifier in your bedroom to reduce dry air.
  • Working with your doctor to change certain medications like beta-blockers that may be causing asthma.
  • Getting vaccinated for the flu and other respiratory illnesses that may cause asthma.

Your doctor can talk to you in greater detail about all your treatment options and help you develop an asthma action plan that works best for you.

Asthma Treatment With Healthcare Associates Of Texas

Visit our website today to request an appointment if you think you may have adult-onset asthma. Our board-certified physicians can perform one or more breathing tests and discuss all your available treatment options—including the best ways to avoid asthma triggers.