Asthma is often thought to be a condition you get when you are a child and for many, asthma does start in childhood. However, some people are diagnosed with asthma for the first time later in life. This is known as 'adult onset asthma'.
For older people, shortness of breath may be the only symptom. However it can be difficult to tell the difference between asthma and other conditions that cause similar symptoms, such as bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (link to LH17) so it is sometimes difficult to diagnose asthma in older adults.
Some people who have had asthma all their life may find that it starts affecting them in different ways when they get older. For example, they may have coughed or wheezed previously, but as they get older, they may notice they become more breathless.
In older people, the symptoms of asthma are less likely to be triggered by allergies such as house-dust mites, furry and feathered pets and pollen. Symptoms are more likely to be triggered by: flu, colds or other viral infections; exercise; laughing or getting excited; depression or anxiety; some medicines; and irritants such as cigarette smoke, cold air, perfumes and chemical fumes.
Studies have shown that air pollution can trigger symptoms in people who already have asthma. Those most at risk include people with severe asthma and older people with heart or chronic respiratory problems.
If flu, colds or other viral infections trigger your asthma you should consider having the flu vaccination. Ask your doctor or asthma nurse or nurse whether you need one.
People who are over 65 or anyone who is regularly using steroid tablets should also talk to their doctor or asthma nurse about whether they need a pneumoccocal vaccination.
Is my breathlessness just a sign that I am getting older?
Not necessarily. Some people mistakenly think that getting breathless is an inevitable part of growing older. But in many cases it is a condition that can be treated.
You needn't put up with breathlessness. There is always a reason for experiencing breathlessness or any other symptom of asthma. You should visit your doctor to find out what is causing your problem. If it is asthma, there are a lot of excellent medicines available that can help you get better.
At other times, asthma symptoms may indicate other problems to do with your chest or heart. This is why it is extremely important that you see your doctor to tell him/her about your symptoms, no matter how trivial you may think they are. Your doctor will always prefer to see you sooner rather than later.
Is it safe for me to have an operation?
There is no reason why anyone with asthma should not have an operation. You should always tell the hospital consultant that you have asthma.
If you need an anaesthetic, you may be asked to take a series of peak flow measurements a few weeks before your operation. If your asthma is not as well controlled as it should be, your doctor or asthma nurse will adjust your asthma treatment to see you through the operation.