Living With Asthma: Special Concerns for
Asthma should not limit your enjoyment
of life, no matter what your age. When you work with your doctor,
your asthma can be controlled so that you can do the things you
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a disease of the lung airways. With asthma, the airways
are inflamed (swollen) and react easily to certain things, like
viruses, smoke, or pollen. When the inflamed airways react, they
get narrow and make it hard to breathe. Common asthma symptoms
are wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
When these symptoms get worse, it's an asthma attack.
Asthma symptoms may come and go, but the asthma is always there.
To keep it under control, you need to work with your doctor and
keep taking care of it.
Asthma and Aging
Many older adults have asthma. Some people develop it late in
life. For others, it may be a continuing problem from younger
years. The cause is not known.
Asthma in older adults presents some special concerns. For example,
the normal effects of aging can make asthma harder to diagnose
and treat. So can other health problems that many older adults
have (like emphysema or heart disease). Also, older adults are
more likely than younger people to have side effects from asthma
medicines. (For example, recent studies show that older adults
who take high doses of inhaled steroid medicines over a long time
may increase their chance of getting glaucoma.) When some asthma
and nonasthma medicines are taken by the same person, the drugs
can combine to produce harmful side effects. Doctors and patients
must take special care to watch out for and address these concerns
through a complete diagnosis and regular checkups.
If you have episodes of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath,
or chest tightness, have a complete checkup to find out what the
problem is. It could be asthma or another medical problem.
Several tests may be needed to tell what is causing your symptoms.
These tests include spirometry (to measure how open your airways
are), a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram (to show whether you
have heart disease), and a blood test. Accurate diagnosis is important
because asthma is treated differently from other diseases with
Controlling Your Asthma
You can help get your asthma under control and keep it under
control if you do a few simple things.
1. Talk openly with your doctor.
Say what you want to be able to do that you can't do now because
of your asthma. Also, tell your doctor your concerns about your
asthma, your medicines, and your health.
If you take medicine that you must inhale, be sure that you
are doing it right. It must be timed with taking your breath in.
And such common problems as arthritis or loss of strength may
make it more difficult. Your doctor should check that you are
doing it right and help you solve any problems.
It's also important to talk to your doctor about all the medicines
you take--for asthma and for other problems--to be sure they will
not cause harmful side effects. Be sure to mention eye drops,
aspirin, and other medicines you take without a prescription.
Also, tell your doctor about any symptoms you have, even if you
don't think they are related to asthma. Being open with your doctor
about your medicines and symptoms can help prevent problems.
Finally, be honest about any problems you may have hearing,
understanding, or remembering things your doctor tells you. Ask
your doctor to speak up or repeat something until you're sure
of what you need to do.
2. Ask your doctor for a written treatment plan. Then be sure
to follow it.
A written treatment plan will tell you when to take each of
your asthma medicines and how much to take. If you have trouble
reading small print, ask for your treatment plan (and other handouts)
in larger type.
3. Watch for early symptoms and respond quickly.
Most asthma attacks start slowly. You can learn to tell when
one is coming if you keep track of the symptoms you have, how
bad they are, and when you have them. Your doctor also may want
you to use a "peak flow meter," which is a small plastic
tool that you blow into that measures how well you are breathing.
If you respond quickly to the first signs that your asthma is
getting worse, you can prevent serious asthma attacks.
4. Stay away from things that make your asthma worse.
Tobacco smoke and viruses can make asthma worse. So can other
things you breathe in, such as pollen. Talk to your doctor about
what makes your asthma worse and what to do about those things.
Ask about getting a flu shot and a vaccine to prevent pneumonia.
5. See your doctor at least every 6 months.
You may need to go more often, especially if your asthma is
not under control. Regular visits will let your doctor check your
progress and, if needed, change your treatment plan. Your doctor
also can check other medical problems you may have.
Bring your treatment plan and all your medicines to every checkup.
Show your doctor how you take your inhaled medicines to make sure
you're doing it right.
If You Need Help
If you ever feel depressed or under stress because of your asthma
or other reasons, ask for help. Talking to close friends, family
members, support groups, or counselors can help you feel better
and help you keep your asthma under control.
For more information on asthma, contact these organizations:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Information Center
Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc. (800-878-4403)
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (800-822-ASMA)
American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (800-842-7777)
American Lung Association (800-LUNG USA)
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (800-7-ASTHMA)
National Jewish Medical and Research Center (800-222-LUNG)
Developed by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program
the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1998.
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) /
National Institutes of Health - June 2000