Asthma Adult

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the lungs and airways caused by a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors. Asthma causes swelling and constriction in the lungs and airways. Both of these symptoms restrict airflow and cause asthma symptoms, which can include:

  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • wheezing.

Asthma symptoms may be triggered by a number of factors, including environmental allergens and physical activity.

Types of Asthma

Asthma can be classified by its triggers, or according to the time of onset. Allergic asthma can be triggered by allergens in the environment, such as animal dander, mold or pollen. In non-allergic asthma, acute symptoms do not result from allergens, but rather from other causes, such as cold air, irritants and stress. People with asthma may also experience “exercise-induced asthma,” or bronchospasms, brought on by physical activity. Both of these types of asthma can present with varying levels of severity.

The age of onset of asthma can vary as well. People may have asthma from childhood, or they may develop it later in life. Childhood asthma is the most common chronic disease in kids, and generally develops by age five. However, asthma can develop at any time of life. Asthma diagnosed after age 20 is commonly known as adult-onset asthma. Some individuals may develop asthma in their 50s, or even later in life.

Adult-Onset Asthma: Contributing Causes and Risk Factors

Adult asthma is less common than childhood asthma. Certain groups of people are at higher risk for developing asthma as adults, including people who:

  • are female, especially those who have experienced hormone changes, such as pregnancy, menopause or estrogen therapy
  • are obese
  • have a family history of allergies or asthma
  • have had long-term exposure to environmental irritants

Alleviating Asthma Symptoms

Asthma symptoms can be controlled with a variety of medications. Asthma may be treated with daily long-term medication, such as a short-acting bronchodilator or an inhaled corticosteroid. These medications help to alleviate chronic and persistent symptoms, which are common in adult-onset asthma.

Short-term “rescue” medication may also be needed to stop the more severe flare-up of symptoms known as an asthma attack. Short-term medications, such as short-acting bronchodilators, can help reverse the effects of severe airway constriction and inflammation.

Medications for allergy-induced asthma are also available. These medications reduce the effect of allergens on the body and decrease the likelihood that they will trigger asthma symptoms. In addition, whenever possible, known triggers (allergens, irritants, etc.) should be avoided, or exposure to them should be limited.

Adult-onset asthma is more likely to present with persistent symptoms than childhood asthma. Therefore, proper use of medications is important to control these symptoms.

Managing Your Asthma

Seeing your doctor for an exam and a lung function test can help provide a definitive diagnosis for adult-onset asthma. Several steps may be taken to control asthma and reduce its severity. Medications can be an important part of managing asthma symptoms, and adhering to a well-monitored regimen can help control your asthma. Be sure to alert your doctor of any other medications you are taking to avoid interactions with asthma medications.

It is also helpful to use a peak flow meter daily to monitor your asthma. A peak flow meter helps track lung function by measuring how well you can push air out of your lungs. Keeping track of your peak flow rates can help you and your doctor to know whether you need to make changes in your lifestyle or medications. You should take an active role in managing your asthma, and keep in contact with your doctor about your medications and any changes in your symptoms.


American Lung Association. (2008). Peak flow meters. Retrieved March 17, 2009, from the American Lung Association Web site: