Although when many people think of asthma, they think about children and teens who have the condition, it can be present at any age. Elderly people will often suffer from asthma and will require proper care and treatment to help ensure their health and safety. Here is a CDPAP’s guide to asthma in the elderly.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition that causes the airways in your body to narrow and start to swell. In some cases, the airways might also begin to produce extra mucus. When this occurs, it will make breathing more difficult. In many people, it can cause coughing and wheezing when trying to breathe. You will feel short of breath.
In some cases, asthma is not serious and can be easily controlled. However, for others, it can become a major problem and a serious health risk. This is often true in elderly patients, who may have other medical conditions, as well.
It has the potential to interfere with many of the normal activities you do throughout the day, and there is a chance of having an asthma attack severe enough that it puts your life at risk.
It is important to understand that asthma is chronic, which means those who have it live with it every day. There is not a cure for asthma, but there are treatments, which will be discussed later. First, though, it is important to get a better understanding of what causes asthma in the first place.
What Causes Asthma?
It is not entirely clear what causes asthma in all people. In some cases, it may be a genetic factor that you inherit. If others in your family, such as one or both of your parents or grandparents have asthma, it may mean that you are more likely to have it.
However, it can also be due to environmental factors, or a combination of genetics and the environment. These factors could include things such as smoke, dust, animal dander, and pollen, for example. If you or someone you care for has asthma, it’s important to keep those triggers in mind, so you can do your best to avoid them when possible.
Some of the other major risk factors include:
· Being overweight
· Being exposed to secondhand smoke
Sometimes, asthma develops when people get older, or it may worsen as they age. The typical natural aging process can contribute to the onset of the condition. For example, elderly people will often have greater rigidity in the chest wall, along with poor respiratory muscle strength.
They may also have a decrease in elastic recoil, which simply means that the lungs are not as efficient, and it could lead to airway collapse. In addition to the causes of asthma, you should also become well-acquainted with the symptoms.
Symptoms of Asthma
The symptoms of asthma can vary from one person to another. Some people will have asthma attacks infrequently, and they might only have symptoms when they have a trigger, such as dust or pollen in the air or when they are exercising and trying to breathe harder. They might have only one or two symptoms, or they could have all of them. Others might suffer from asthma symptoms all of the time.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms of asthma include:
· Wheezing when trying to breathe.
· Suffering from shortness of breath.
· Tightness in the chest where you struggle to take in a breath.
· Not having enough breath to properly speak, eat, or even sleep.
· It can cause some people to breathe faster and to take only shallow breaths.
· It can increase the heartbeat.
· The lips of the fingers could turn blue because you are not getting enough oxygen into the body.
· Some might find that they feel drowsy or confused.
· Some may feel dizzy.
· Feelings of exhaustion could occur.
· Sometimes, a person with asthma will faint.
The symptoms of asthma can be frightening for those who have the condition. Not being able to breathe properly can cause panic, particularly when a rough asthma attack occurs.
It’s important to note that over time, asthma could worsen. If you are suffering the above signs and symptoms more often, it could indicate that your asthma is getting worse. The same is true if you have more difficulty breathing and it’s documented using a peak flow meter. Those who find themselves needing to use an inhaler more often could also have worsening asthma.
You should also know that certain activities have the potential to cause asthma to flare. One of these is exercise. While it may be okay for some exercise, if it is advised by a medical professional, you will need to be careful. The weather, when coupled with exercise, can make asthma worse.
Occupational asthma occurs or worsens when it is triggered by irritants in your place of work. This could be dust or chemical fumes, for example. Older people who are still in the workforce and who are in environments where these irritants could be present will want to be careful and wear proper safety equipment.
Allergy-induced asthma occurs, too. This happens when there are substances in the air, such as pollen, mold, dust, and pet dander in the air.
Although there is no cure for asthma, there are some treatments available that can help.
Treatment for Asthma in the Elderly
Asthma that occurs in older adults can negatively affect the quality of life in those patients, and it is more than five times as likely to cause death than in younger people. Proper care and treatment are required.
For elderly patients, one of the most common types of treatment is inhaled corticosteroids. If they have altered airways and systemic inflammation, it can make them less likely to positively respond to this type of treatment, though. In some cases, stepped treatment is used to monitor the effects of the corticosteroids and bronchodilators, which can help to deal with the symptoms quickly.
Patients who are prescribed medications and inhalers for their asthma need to use them according to the doctor’s instructions. If they have more than one type of inhaler, they need to be clearly labeled, so the correct one is always chosen for each situation.
Additionally, whenever the patient is given any new medication, it needs to be checked against all of the meds they are currently taking, so there are no adverse interactions that take place.
One of the other ways to reduce the risk of an attack and to help keep asthma under control is by avoiding potential triggers. If you know that pet dander is a trigger, for example, it means not being in spaces where there are pets or opting for a pet that doesn’t have dander. If dust is a trigger, it means keeping a clean house. If it’s exercise, you need to limit the types of exercise you are doing. By avoiding triggers, it can make living with asthma much easier on elderly patients.
In some cases, patients might need to have some additional help breathing through the night. This might include using CPAP machines for example. You or a caregiver should know how to use any machines, masks, etc. that are suggested by medical professionals. It is important for patients to always follow the advice of their medical professionals for the best results in treatment.
How does someone know if they have asthma when they are older if they never had the issue during their younger years?
Asthma in children tends to be common and is easily diagnosed. However, that’s not the case with older adults. To diagnose asthma properly in the elderly, the doctors need to fully review the patient’s medical history and conduct a physical exam.
They will also need to take a chest x-ray to look at the lungs and get a better sense of their condition. Your doctor will likely have to take an electrocardiogram and spirometry, as well.
It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is another condition that causes chronic inflammation of the lungs, which inhibits the airflow. The doctor may conduct a test of the diffusing capacity of the lungs for carbon monoxide, which can help to pinpoint the actual condition. Having a chest computed tomography scan could help to identify the increased wall thickness and air trapping.
You aren’t able to diagnose yourself, and someone can’t simply look at your symptoms and declare that you have asthma, even though that might be the case.
You will need to make an appointment with the doctor to receive a professional diagnosis. Once you have been diagnosed, you can then go on the treatments they prescribe for your condition. With the proper care and treatment, it’s possible to maintain a semblance of a normal life, even though it means some things will change.