Asthma, commonly seen in children, is a condition that can affect people well into their adulthood. For many adults in their golden years, lung conditions like asthma can be a cause for concern. Last summer, New York experienced incredibly harsh air quality conditions as a result of the Canadian wildfires. But living in New York City, our eldest loved ones continually deal with smog, pollen, and other air quality issues. Below, we will discuss how asthma affects older adults, and what you can do to help them.

Asthma in Older Individuals

People often believe that children “outgrow” their asthma, but it is usually just in remission. Many people with asthma will face lung problems associated with it in their later years. Additionally, it is possible to develop it as an adult. According to the CDC, about 7% of all adults over 65 in the US live with asthma.

General Symptoms

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways. Asthmatics can suffer from wheezing episodes. During an “asthma attack,” the airways constrict and are filled with mucus. This makes it difficult to take in enough air. Additionally, they may experience chest tightness. These attacks are most often identified by the individual’s wheezing and shallow breathing. These attacks occur most often while exerting oneself, or in areas with low air quality. Pollutants and high pollen can contribute to the frequency of attacks, as does exposure to irritants like mold or smoke. Symptoms may also include allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis. Lastly, some asthmatics have a chronic, hacking cough.

Asthma Misdiagnosis in Older Adults

For adults without a history of childhood asthma, it is not uncommon for adult-onset symptoms to be misdiagnosed as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). While both are lung-related, asthma has less severe symptoms. It also has a much better prognosis. Treatment is more manageable and in most cases, non-fatal. A history of allergies may more closely indicate asthma. On the other hand, a history of smoking is more likely to lead to COPD. Your doctor will ask questions relating to family medical history to make a proper diagnosis. A chest x-ray can also help determine a difference.

Treating Asthma in Older Adults

If you believe your older loved one may have asthma, they should consider seeing their primary care physician or a pulmonologist. It is a chronic condition with no cure. However, treatments for the disease work to provide quick relief in the event of an episode. This is generally administered via an inhaler or nebulizer. Asthma attacks can be troubling for young children but are much more dangerous for older adults. In severe cases, older individuals can suffer from asthma-induced respiratory failure. Proper diagnosis and easy access to treatment can help reduce their risk factors.

Living With Asthma

Unlike many other chronic illnesses, asthma can be very manageable and does not have to be life-threatening with proper care. Firstly, maintaining a healthy body weight is a good way to stave off asthma attacks. Eating healthy and staying active is important. While high levels of activity can trigger asthma attacks, you still need some exercise. Light aerobic activities or light walks can help increase lung capacity and help keep off excess weight. Remember that any amount of exercise is better than no exercise at all.

Air Quality and Asthmatics

Reducing exposure to triggers can also help. Help your loved one quit smoking if they are. If you are smoking, quit, or do not smoke near your loved one. Tobacco smoke is an especially potent irritant for asthma, and can significantly worsen symptoms. Clean their house to remove mold, mildew, and other irritants. Scented candles and perfumes may also cause aerial irritants for your loved one. High pollen counts can irritate the lungs and trigger wheezing episodes. Instruct your loved one to limit outdoor activity and not to open windows on days when the air quality is bad or pollen counts are high. If they must go outside, instruct them to wear a mask that protects against pollution. KN95, FFP2, or N95 masks are standard. It is always important to regularly change filters in A/Cs and central air units

Stress and Attacks

Stress is also a factor in provoking asthma attacks. Help your loved one develop destressing habits. Mindful meditation and other relaxation activities can reduce stress. It is not uncommon for asthmatics to panic during an asthma attack. Mindfulness and meditation practices can help them wind down during an attack. Along with a rescue inhaler, this can help reduce the severity of attacks.

In-Home Care for Asthmatics

Generally, asthma alone may not be reason enough for an older adult to require in-home care. However, it may be another reason to consider it. If your loved one has mobility issues or other conditions, it may be harder for your loved one to care for themselves. In the event of an asthma attack, they may require assistance to use their rescue inhaler.

Safe Harbor Healthcare Services does not provide medical, healthcare, or financial advice via articles. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for medical advice.
Safe Harbor Healthcare Services has provided excellent home care on Staten Island since 1967. Our services help older and disabled individuals live safely and independently; while giving their families the peace of mind they need. For more information contact us or call (718)-979-6900.