You may think that people with asthma have had it their entire life. It’s true, that many asthma cases are diagnosed when the sufferers are children but there is another group that doesn’t learn they have asthma until they are adults. Diagnosing adult-onset asthma poses challenges for medical professionals since asthma has similar symptoms to other lung conditions. Yet, its very important that adults find out whether or not they have asthma so that they can get the proper treatment and manage their condition.
Causes of 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.
Allergies also play a role in the development of adult asthma. It’s interesting to note that the AAFA states that people who have an allergy to cats are particularly at risk for asthma. Does this mean that cats cause asthma? No, it’s a correlation, not cause, and just something to be aware of in case your respiratory symptoms start to worsen.
Another correlation that doctors have found is that a prolonged bout of a viral illness like a chest cold or the flu can lead to adult-onset asthma. Once again, the reasons are not entirely clear but 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 adult are similar to those you see in children with asthma. However, there is one significant difference. Childhood asthma symptoms are less persistent over a period of time. Adult asthma symptoms never seem to quite go away. Since asthma causes inflamed airways and excess mucus production, most of your symptoms will affect your respiratory system.
- 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 Is Adult Asthma Diagnosed?
As we said before, diagnosing adult-onset asthma is a little trickier than diagnosing childhood asthma. This is because adult asthma has similar symptoms to other conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). When trying to figure out if you have asthma, 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 have become super helpful 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 My Treatment Options?
When you first discover that you have asthma, your doctor will want to come up with a treatment plan to best fit your needs. Everyone’s asthma is different, so it is important for you to consult your doctor who will help you put together an Asthma Action Plan.
One of the most important things is to determine what triggers your asthma. 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 what medications will best suit you. A wide range of quick-relief and long-term control medications are available to help fit your needs. Doctors have now been advising their patients to use at-home spirometry testing to help with better 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.