Imagine stepping outside and taking in a deep breath of fresh air, only to find that it prompts breathing difficulties or a tight chest. For those struggling with adult-onset asthma, this is a reality.

Many people believe that asthma is a condition you develop in childhood, but adults can develop it too, and it’s more common than you might realise. The issue is that, as adults, we’re not as good at spotting the signs of asthma. So, with that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about adult-onset asthma and the symptoms to watch out for.

The Symptoms of Adult-Onset Asthma

Asthma is a lung condition that can come with several different symptoms and triggers. This condition is caused by inflamed airways, which triggers excess mucus production and muscle spasms that narrow the airways, making it more difficult to breathe. This can cause:

  • Tight chest or a pressured feeling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath after exertion
  • Wheezing when you exhale
  • Dry cough or colds that linger after moving quickly to the chest

The symptoms of adult asthma are similar to childhood asthma, but they are usually intermittent in childhood whereas adults may experience them more persistently. It’s important to speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms and a fever, just to rule out Coronavirus.

Is Asthma More Dangerous for Adults?

Asthma is a dangerous condition for anyone, but it’s particularly worrying for adults – in fact, the death rate for adult-onset asthma is considerably higher than it is for children. One of the reasons for this could be that adults tend to ignore the symptoms and attribute them to other issues, such as being overweight or not exercising enough, which means they don’t take them as seriously.

Another reason is that the symptoms can be seen in other conditions, such as stomach disorders, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or rheumatoid arthritis. Delays in getting treatment for asthma can cause long-term, and even permanent, damage to lung function, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Who Is At Increased Risk Of Adult-Onset Asthma?

Some people are more at risk of asthma in adulthood than others. These include:

  • Being overweight or obese (which changes lung physiology and increases the risk of inflammation)
  • Being female (hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy or menopause can trigger asthma)
  • Allergens (cigarette smoke, chemicals, mould, dust or pets)
  • Smokers

Can Asthma Be Treated?

Adult-onset asthma can be treated with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Each person is different, so what works well for one person may not be effective in someone else, so it’s important to seek medical advice for a personalised treatment plan.

Asthma inhalers are a common treatment and there are different ones depending on the severity of your asthma, including fast-acting and long-lasting inhalers. These asthma inhalers work by relaxing the muscles of the airways to widen them, making breathing easier and reducing symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath. Lifestyle changes such as losing excess weight, exercising more, quitting smoking and eating a balanced diet can all contribute to healthier lung function too.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

Getting an asthma diagnosis can be tricky, as the symptoms often crossover with other conditions. But, your GP or asthma nurse can confirm the diagnosis for you and help you get a treatment plan to deal with it. This might include:

  • Asking you questions about your symptoms and what triggers them
  • Asking if there’s a family history of asthma
  • Finding out if you have other allergies like hay fever
  • Listening to your breathing to determine if there is any wheezing
  • Prescribing asthma treatments to see if they help suppress your symptoms

You may also be asked to take a spirometry test which tests your lung function and whether they are working optimally. This is done via a small machine attached to a mouthpiece. You’ll be seated for the test and a soft clip will be placed on your nose to stop air from going in and out. You’ll then inhale fully to fill your lungs with air, close your lips around the mouthpiece and exhale as hard as you can to fully empty your lungs. This will be repeated several times to ensure the result is reliable.