Adult-Onset Asthma Symptoms & Management

Many adults with asthma were first diagnosed as a child, and have either managed their asthma all their life, or the asthma seemed to disappear for a number of years and came back later. There is however a significant group of people who develop asthma for the first time in their lives as adults. This is called adult-onset asthma.

It is important that the diagnosis of asthma as an adult is done carefully to make sure other illnesses such as heart disease are not the cause of symptoms. Your doctor will ask about your family and medical history, and check your lungs with tests like a spirometry test.


The symptoms of adult-onset asthma are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheeze
  • Coughing, especially at night or early in the morning
  • Chest tightness.


The management of adult-onset asthma is the same as for all people who have asthma:

  • Regular medical reviews
  • Medication
  • Healthy lifestyle
  • A written Asthma Action Plan

What causes adult-onset asthma?

What causes asthma, regardless of age, remains unclear. We do not understand why symptoms develop at a certain age or why they might seem to “disappear” even though the airways are still sensitive and inflamed. The important thing to remember is asthma can be managed with:

  • good control
  • appropriate, prescribed medication,
  • regular check-ups with your doctor, and
  • a written Asthma Action Plan

Asthma Triggers

For most people with asthma, triggers are only a problem when their asthma is not well-controlled To manage asthma symptoms and reduce the risk of a severe attack, you have to treat the underlying airway inflammation with medication. This is the best way to reduce asthma symptoms and the risk of needing to go to hospital or dying from asthma.

Appropriate use of medication also reduces the chance you will get any symptoms in response to something that previously triggered your sensitive airways. Triggers that are more often an issue for those that develop adult-onset asthma are:

  • Smoking – both active and passive smoking can cause chronic bronchitis and emphysema which are lung diseases that belong to a group of illnesses known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Although there is no cure for COPD, research has shown that if you quit smoking, you may stop your symptoms from getting worse.
  • Colds and Flu: everyone gets colds or the flu from time to time, and these can easily make your asthma worse. It is important to recognise when your asthma is getting worse, and know what to do about it. Having a written Asthma Action Plan can help you monitor your asthma.
  • Other Medications: as you get older you might need to take regular medications for different conditions. Some medications can interact with asthma medications, or can make asthma worse. You should always talk to your doctor or pharmacist before starting any new medication, whether it is prescription, over the counter or herbal medicine to ensure it won’t have any negative effects on your asthma.

Source: Asthma Australia



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