Adult Asthma (Adult-onset Asthma)

Asthma is a long-term lung condition, in which the airway lining swells or produces large amount of mucous. Apart from this the airway may also become narrow because of contraction of the muscles surrounding it. Patients usually experience recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. For most patients, the coughing occurs at night or early in the morning.

Most people think of asthma as a childhood disease, because it usually starts sometime during childhood. However, it has been observed that it affects people of all ages. When asthma is diagnosed in people older than 20 years of age, it is known as adult-onset asthma. In contrast to childhood asthma, adult asthma is more persistent and permanent. Often, constant medication is required to help keep it under control.


The real cause of asthma is uncertain, be it childhood or adult-onset asthma. It is not clear why the symptoms develop at a certain age or why they often disappear (especially in children). Irritants that bring on asthma symptoms are called “asthma triggers”. Asthma which develops at workplace (due to occupation of the person) is called “occupational asthma.” Adult asthma is usually aggravated by trigger factors similar to those in childhood asthma. Some of the triggers are:

Tobacco Smoke: Smoking causes quick and permanent damage to the lung. This applies to second-hand smoke also. Tobacco smoke makes asthma medication less effective, thereby making it harder to control. Apart from this, it increases the risk of a severe asthma attack.

Dust: Dust is an environmental irritant that annoys the nose, throat, and lungs. People with asthma must try their best to avoid dusty environment, and avoid occupations such as baking, woodwork, metal foundry work, mining, etc.

Allergens: There are several indoor allergens such as pets, feather bedding, mold on walls or dust, that induce asthmatic attacks. Constant efforts need to be made to keep the home and workplace free of asthma triggers.

Fumes and Strong Odors: It has been observed that fumes and strong smells provoke asthma in some cases. At home, use of spray cans of any kind should be minimized. One must try to stay away from spray paint fumes, and heating unit fumes including kerosene heaters.

Infections: Viruses including the flu, pneumonia, and the common cold are the most frequent triggers for this condition. Adults may even develop asthma after a severe attack of any of these viruses. Vaccination against these viruses is advised for people with chronic respiratory conditions, however, they do not protect against all the respiratory infections.

Medications: Certain medications aggravate asthma in some people. They include beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure, angina or glaucoma, Aspirin, and pain relievers called ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs’ (NSAIDs). It is also vital that a patient’s asthma medication does not interact with any other prescribed or non-prescribed medications.

Foods: Many adults are allergic to foods such as nuts or seafood. Some people are even sensitive to food additives, commonly – sulfites (220-228), which is used as preservatives in foods and drinks. These can aggravate the asthmatic conditions.

Some people are more prone to this condition, they include women experiencing hormonal changes, such as those who are pregnant or those who are experiencing menopause. Also, women who take estrogen following menopause for 10 years or longer are at a greater risk of developing adult-onset asthma. People who have just had certain viral infection or illness, such as a cold or flu, obese people, and people with allergies (especially to cats) also fall into this category.

Adult-onset asthma may be diagnosed by a lung function test using a device called a spirometer, to measure how much air you can exhale after first taking a deep breath. Another indicator is a methacholine challenge test. This asthma test may be performed if your symptoms and spirometry test do not clearly show asthma. When inhaled, methacholine causes the airways to spasm and narrow if asthma is present. An X-ray may also be suggested, but it does not always clearly indicate the condition.

If asthma is under-treated in adult life, it may lead to quick and irreversible deterioration of the lungs. While asthma can be controlled; it has no cure. In some adults, it is best to use regular medication in order to protect lung function, rather than risking permanent damage.

Besides the many preventive measures, there are different types of inhalers available for asthma. However, the right one should be chosen after consultation with a doctor.