Many people believe that asthma is a lifelong disease. While it is true that many asthmatics are diagnosed as children, others may not learn that they suffer from asthma until they reach adulthood. Diagnosing adult-onset asthma poses a few challenges for medical professionals since asthma shares symptoms with other lung conditions. However, it is very important that adults receive the proper diagnosis so that they can move forward with treatment and asthma maintenance. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what adult-onset asthma is.
What Causes Adult-Onset Asthma?
The root cause of adult-onset asthma isn’t always clear, but several environmental factors, such as pollution, could lead to its development. The American Lung Association reports that 1 in 6 adults who contract asthma have developed it due to exposure in the workplace. While at work, these adults could be exposed to a number of different factors such as mold, chemicals, dust, or gases. Chronic exposure to irritants at work that leads to asthma is known as occupational asthma.
Additionally, allergies play a role in the development of adult asthma. One interesting study by the AAFA states that people with allergies to cats are particularly at risk for asthma. While cats do not necessarily cause asthma, it is a correlation to be aware of in case your respiratory symptoms begin worsening.
Another correlation that doctors have found is that a prolonged viral illness, such as a chest cold or the flu, can lead to adult-onset asthma. Once again, the reasons are not entirely clear. However, you should always follow up with a doctor if you start experiencing breathing issues, even mild, after a viral illness.
What Are the Symptoms of Adult-Onset Asthma?
The symptoms experienced by an asthmatic adult are similar to those you see in children. However, there is one significant difference. Childhood asthma symptoms typically become less persistent over time. On the other hand, adult asthma symptoms seem to stick around. Since asthma causes inflamed airways and excess mucus production, most of your symptoms will affect your respiratory system. Symptoms of adult-onset asthma include the following.
- Wheezing when you exhale (which sounds like whistling)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Lingering chest colds
- Coughing with or without mucus
How Do Doctors Diagnose Adult-Onset Asthma?
As already mentioned, diagnosing adult-onset asthma is a little trickier than diagnosing childhood asthma. This is because adult asthma shares symptoms with other lung conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). When attempting to diagnose your condition, your doctor will look at your symptoms as well as your family history. After reviewing those, your doctor may decide to give you a breathing test using a spirometer. This test measures how much air you can expel as well as how fast you can expel it.
Spirometry tests play an important role in asthma diagnosis and even in asthma management. If your doctor determines that you have asthma, that is when you will discuss what treatments you have available to you.
What Are Your Treatment Options?
When you first discover that you have asthma, your doctor will help you create a treatment plan that best fits your needs. Everyone’s asthma is different, so it is important that you consult your doctor for help putting together an asthma attack action plan.
It is extremely important to identify your asthma triggers. Establishing this will help you see what you need to avoid or take special caution. Common allergy triggers range from air allergens and tobacco smoke to chemicals and mold.
Your doctor will also decide which medications best suit your case. A wide range of quick-relief and long-term control medications are available to help fit your needs. Additionally, the use of at-home spirometry testing helps with asthma management. These tests help you to see how well your lungs are functioning. When you have adult-onset asthma, at-home spirometry makes an excellent management tool since it is easy to use and helps you get to know your body even better.
Common Questions About Adult-Onset Asthma
Here are some of the more common questions people ask about adult-onset asthma.
1. What increases my risk of adult-onset asthma?
Doctors aren’t always sure why a patient has developed asthma, but here are several triggers that could lead to the development of adult asthma.
- Occupational exposure to irritants
- Prolonged respiratory infections
- Exposure to mold
2. Is it possible to have asthma and not know it?
Yes, it is possible to have asthma and not know it. Certain adults avoid their asthma triggers for years, and it isn’t until they are exposed to them that they discover they have it. Exposure to irritants over a long period of time might also be the cause of asthma development later on in life.
3. Can stress or anxiety cause my adult-onset asthma?
Although stress is a common asthma trigger, it cannot cause the development of asthma. Stress might cause you to feel short of breath and bring on an asthma attack. If you have asthma, try to avoid stressful situations or practice stress management to avoid asthma complications.