Am I experiencing adult onset asthma?

Up to 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most people develop the condition in childhood, adult-onset asthma is also possible.

In fact, asthma symptoms can develop at any age and stage of life. Some people who have asthma as children “age out” of flare-ups as they get older, while others first experience the condition well into adulthood.

Would you recognize the symptoms of adult-onset asthma if you were to experience them?

The causes of adult-onset asthma

If you never had asthma as a child, what’s suddenly causing you to experience it as an adult? In most cases, adult-onset asthma is caused by some type of allergen, such as mold, dust mites or even your pets.

As many as 30% of all adult-onset asthma cases are associated with allergies.

Other cases of asthma in adults are triggered by irritants within your home or work environment. These irritants can include cigarette smoke, chemicals or fragrances.

In women, hormonal fluctuations can contribute to the development of adult-onset asthma. Women may develop asthma during or after pregnancy or following menopause.

The symptoms of adult-onset asthma

When you have asthma, the condition causes the airways to narrow, swell and produce extra mucus. When this occurs, you may experience a number of symptoms, including:

  • Chest congestion
  • Chest pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath, particularly after being physically active
  • Wheezing when you exhale

Those who have adult-onset asthma may also find it more difficult to recover after seemingly minor viruses, such as the common cold. Colds and other viruses may be more likely to move into the chest and linger, causing coughing and other symptoms to flare up.

While asthma may come and go during childhood, it’s more likely to persist in adults. This makes it important to take steps to manage the condition.

Treating adult-onset asthma

If you believe you may have asthma, your medical provider will likely talk with you about your symptoms, conduct a physical exam and perform a lung function test.

Depending on your individual symptoms and how severe they are, treatment may include a combination of things. Your provider may prescribe medications to provide quick relief of symptoms when you experience an asthma flare-up.

He or she may also recommend other medications that are designed to reduce the inflammation in your lungs and prevent asthma attacks from occurring. These medications are often referred to as “control” medications and are usually taken daily for as long as asthma persists.

Asthma care at University Health

In addition to medications, lifestyle changes will also be recommended in many cases, including smoking cessation if you smoke. Your primary care provider or an allergist can help you determine a strategy for managing the condition and improving your quality of life.

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