NHLBI, Asthma Age Page: NHLBI
Article title: NHLBI, Asthma Age Page: NHLBI
Living With Asthma:
Special Concerns for Older Adults
Asthma should not limit your enjoyment of life, no matter what your age.
When you work with your doctor, your asthma can be controlled so that you can do
the things you enjoy.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the lung airways. With asthma,
the airways are inflamed (swollen) and react easily to certain things, like
viruses, smoke, or pollen. When the inflamed airways react, they get narrow and
make it hard to breathe. Common asthma symptoms are wheezing, coughing,
shortness of breath, and chest tightness. When these symptoms get worse, it's an
Asthma symptoms may come and go, but the asthma is always
there. To keep it under control, you need to work with your doctor and keep
taking care of it.
Asthma and Aging
Many older adults have asthma. Some people develop it
late in life. For others, it may be a continuing problem from younger years. The
cause is not known.
Asthma in older adults presents some special
concerns. For example, the normal effects of aging can make asthma harder to
diagnose and treat. So can other health problems that many older adults have
(like emphysema or heart disease). Also, older adults are more likely than
younger people to have side effects from asthma medicines. (For example, recent
studies show that older adults who take high doses of inhaled steroid medicines
over a long time may increase their chance of getting glaucoma.) When some
asthma and nonasthma medicines are taken by the same person, the drugs can
combine to produce harmful side effects. Doctors and patients must take special
care to watch out for and address these concerns through a complete diagnosis
and regular checkups.
If you have episodes of coughing, wheezing, shortness
of breath, or chest tightness, have a complete checkup to find out what the
problem is. It could be asthma or another medical problem.
may be needed to tell what is causing your symptoms. These tests include
spirometry (to measure how open your airways are), a chest x-ray, an
electrocardiogram (to show whether you have heart disease), and a blood test.
Accurate diagnosis is important because asthma is treated differently from other
diseases with similar symptoms.
Controlling Your Asthma
You can help get your asthma under control and
keep it under control if you do a few simple things. 1. Talk
openly with your doctor.
Say what you want to be able to do that you
can't do now because of your asthma. Also, tell your doctor your concerns about
your asthma, your medicines, and your health.
If you take medicine that
you must inhale, be sure that you are doing it right. It must be timed with
taking your breath in. And such common problems as arthritis or loss of strength
may make it more difficult. Your doctor should check that you are doing it right
and help you solve any problems.
It's also important to talk to your
doctor about all
the medicines you take--for asthma and
other problems--to be sure they will not cause harmful side effects. Be sure to
mention eye drops, aspirin, and other medicines you take without a prescription.
Also, tell your doctor about any symptoms you have, even if you don't think they
are related to asthma. Being open with your doctor about your medicines and
symptoms can help prevent problems.
Finally, be honest about any problems
you may have hearing, understanding, or remembering things your doctor tells
you. Ask your doctor to speak up or repeat something until you're sure of what
you need to do. 2. Ask your doctor for a written treatment plan.
Then be sure to follow it.
treatment plan will
tell you when to take each of your asthma medicines and how much to take. If you
have trouble reading small print, ask for your treatment plan (and other
handouts) in larger type. 3. Watch for early symptoms and
Most asthma attacks start slowly. You can learn to
tell when one is coming if you keep track of the symptoms you have, how bad they
are, and when you have them. Your doctor also may want you to use a "peak flow
meter," which is a small plastic tool that you blow into that measures how well
you are breathing. If you respond quickly to the first signs that your asthma is
getting worse, you can prevent serious asthma attacks.4. Stay
away from things that make your asthma worse.
Tobacco smoke and
viruses can make asthma worse. So can other things you breathe in, such as
pollen. Talk to your doctor about what makes your asthma worse and what to do
about those things. Ask about getting a flu shot and a vaccine to prevent
pneumonia.5. See your doctor at least every 6
You may need to go more often, especially if your asthma is
not under control. Regular visits will let your doctor check your progress and,
if needed, change your treatment plan. Your doctor also can check other medical
problems you may have.
Bring your treatment plan and all your medicines
to every checkup. Show your doctor how you take your inhaled medicines to make
sure you're doing it right.
If You Need Help
If you ever feel depressed or under stress because of
your asthma or other reasons, ask for help. Talking to close friends, family
members, support groups, or counselors can help you feel better and help you
keep your asthma under control.
For more information on asthma, contact these
Developed by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program of
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information
- Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
- American Lung Association (800-LUNG USA)
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
- National Jewish Medical and Research Center
the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,