Skip to main content
Alert icon
COVID-19 Resources Click here for details.

Could I Have Adult-Onset Asthma?

June 28, 2022

Lately, you’ve been wheezing every once in a while and finding it harder to breathe at times. Could your symptoms be adult-onset asthma?

Quite possibly! According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, around 25 million Americans have asthma and 20 million of them are adults. 

While many adults had asthma in childhood and continue to experience symptoms as an adult, the condition can also develop during adulthood—making it adult-onset asthma.

How can you know whether your symptoms are caused by asthma, and what can you do to feel better? Read on for the scoop from our team of pulmonology experts.

Understanding Asthma
What is asthma, anyhow? Asthma is a condition that causes inflammation and swelling in the lungs, making it more difficult to breathe.

Asthma is triggered, or caused, by many different factors, including allergies, illnesses, and even exposure to other irritants such as smoke or mold. When someone who has the condition is exposed to a trigger, the airways in the lungs swell, which can cause the body to produce more mucus and lead to muscle spasms.

This, in turn, causes a number of symptoms, varying in severity:

  • Chest pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dry cough
  • Longer durations for illnesses like colds
  • Shortness of breath, particularly after activity
  • Wheezing when you exhale

If you’re experiencing these symptoms regularly, talk with your primary care provider, who can determine if asthma might be to blame. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and whether the condition responds to basic treatment, your PCP may recommend you see a pulmonology specialist.

What Makes Adult-Onset Asthma Different
Well, it’s probably obvious that adult-onset asthma is different from childhood asthma because it develops in someone who is an adult. But the condition also differs slightly from regular asthma in a couple other ways.

For one, when a person has asthma earlier in life, the symptoms may come and go, disappearing for days or even weeks. On the other hand, adult-onset asthma is more likely to cause persistent symptoms. Those who develop asthma in adulthood typically need medication to keep symptoms at bay.

That’s because adult-onset asthma is often caused by an allergen. If a person has an allergy to mold or dust mites, for example, and his or her asthma is triggered by that allergen, symptoms may be present for as long as the allergen is present.

The other way that adult-onset asthma is distinct is that it is related to the work environment fairly frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 20 percent of all adult-onset asthma is related to asthma triggers in the workplace.

Other triggers for adult-onset asthma can include smoke, air pollution, animal dander, simple illnesses like the common cold, cold temperatures, dry air, and emotional stress.

Another interesting fact about adult-onset asthma? Women are more likely to experience asthma as adults, and the condition may be at least partially related to hormonal fluctuations, including menopause.

What to Do If You Think May Have Adult-Onset Asthma
As we mentioned above, if you think your symptoms might be asthma-related, talk with your primary care provider. That’s the first step.

Your PCP can either provide basic treatment options for asthma or refer you to a specialist in the field. 

While asthma cannot be cured, it can often be controlled. If you are diagnosed with adult-onset asthma, treatment may include the use of medications, including both relief medications and control medications. 

Relief medications are taken on an as-needed basis to relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack, while control medications are taken daily to prevent asthma attacks. These medications may be given in different forms, including oral medications like pills and various kinds of inhaled medications, which distribute medicine into the lungs.

The type of treatment that will work best for you will vary depending on a number of factors, and most people are prescribed a combination of medications for adult-onset asthma. Your provider will work with you to find the best strategy to manage your condition and symptoms.

When you have a lung health issue like asthma, you want the peace of mind of knowing you’re working with experts in the field. West Tennessee Healthcare has the pulmonology services you need.