While asthma is often associated with young children, it is not uncommon for it to affect older individuals as well. People often believe that children “outgrow” their asthma, but it generally is just in remission. Many of those children will face lung problems associated with asthma in their later years. Additionally, it is possible to develop it as an adult. According to the CDC, roughly 7% of all elderly individuals in the US live with Asthma.


Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways. Asthmatics can suffer from wheezing episodes of airflow restrictions. 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 during the attacks. These attacks are most often identifiable by the individual’s wheezing, and shallow breathing. These attacks can come about at any time but occur most often during periods of exertion 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.

Misdiagnosis as COPD in Elderly Individuals

For adults without a history of childhood asthma, it is not uncommon for adult-onset asthma to be misdiagnosed as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). While both are lung diseases, asthma has less severe symptoms and a much better prognosis. Overall, asthma treatment is much more manageable. A history of allergies may more closely indicate asthma, while a history of smoking is more likely to lead to COPD. Your doctor will ask questions about your family and medical history to diagnose properly. A chest x-ray can also help determine a difference.

Treatments for Older Adults

If you believe your elderly 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. An inhaler or nebulizer is generally the treatment for these episodes. While wheezing episodes can be troubling for young children, the mortality rate for elderly individuals with the disease is much higher. Elderly individuals can suffer from asthma-induced respiratory failure. Proper diagnosis and access to treatment can help reduce the risk of this.

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 wheezing episodes. Eating healthy and staying active is important. While high levels of activity can trigger asthma attacks, you still need some amount of 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.
Reducing exposure to asthma 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, 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.

Stress and Asthma

Stress can also be an essential factor in provoking asthma attacks. Help your loved one develop destressing habits. Mindful meditation and other relaxation activities can reduce stress, and decrease the severity of attacks overall.

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 been providing excellent home care on Staten Island since 1967. Our services help the elderly and disabled live safely and independently; while giving their families the peace of mind they need. For more information contact us by clicking here, or call (718)-979-6900.