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How to Live with Adult-Onset Asthma

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Mar 18, 2023

    How to Live with Adult-Onset Asthma

    Most people consider asthma as an onset disease that normally takes place in the developing years of a child. However, adult asthma, or adult-onset asthma, cases are on the rise. This article sums up all you need to know about it and how you can manage asthma as an adult. 

    Identifying Adult-Onset Asthma

    Contrary to popular belief, asthma can strike at any age. Some people may show signs in early adulthood, while others may experience symptoms in their later years, such as those in their 50s or beyond. 

    Adult-onset asthma, or adult asthma, reveals itself when symptoms persist in an adult individual. This is compared to a child who frequently has periodic symptoms that are reactions to allergy triggers or other respiratory illnesses. 

    When you have asthma, the inner lining of your airways becomes sensitive, irritated, and even swollen when exposed to certain triggers. Because of this, it then generates an excessive amount of mucus.

    Furthermore, the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways tightens. It causes the airways to narrow (a process known as bronchoconstriction), making it difficult to breathe in and out.

    Asthmatic adults may need to take drugs daily to control their persistency. 

    Common Causes of Adult-Onset Asthma

    The common causes of asthma normally revolve around a mix of factors that may come into play such as environmental, genetic, and even occupational aspects. 

    As an adult, the possibility of developing asthma heightens if you:

    • Have childhood asthma or any form of atopy
    • Are overweight (it increases the risk of asthma)
    • Have exposure to allergens or triggers (i.e., cigarette smoke, pollen, mold spores, dust, fumes, other strong odors, or even pets)
    • Have someone in the household who has asthma as well (this means you are genetically predisposed to develop the condition)
    • Are female (asthma is more prevalent to women than men, particularly those who are in their 20s, due to the hormonal changes that may play a role)
    • Have an illness or infection (colds, flu, or any respiratory viral infection)

    Signs and Symptoms of Adult-Onset Asthma

    Like any other illness, asthma symptoms may be different from person to person. But in a general sense, you may experience one or more of the following:

    • Chest tightness
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Wheezing (a whistling sound)
    • Breathlessness
    • Dry cough
    • Colds 
    • Persistent coughing (mostly at night or in the morning)

    Hernia, gastrointestinal issues, heart disease, pneumonia, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are other illnesses that could mimic asthma.

    Diagnosis of Adult-Onset Asthma 

    The doctor may ask a series of questions and run several tests to be able to examine your condition. 

    Some breathing tests for asthma include:


    Spirometry is a tool to determine how much air you can exhale in a given amount of time.

    Bronchodilator Reversibility (BDR) 

    Two spirometry tests are required before and after a single dose of bronchodilator medication to see if the treatment is effective. A positive BDR test confirms the diagnosis.

    Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) Monitoring 

    This assesses how quickly you can exhale. For two to four weeks, you may be instructed to monitor your PEF (also known as peak flow) at home.

    Fractional Exhaled Nitric Oxide (FeNO)

    FeNO evaluates the degree of inflammation in your airways.

    Bronchial Challenge

    The bronchial challenge is a test that determines how responsive your airways are to an intentionally applied irritant (histamine or methacholine). This specialized test is only performed in a hospital with medical supervision.

    The doctor may also administer allergy tests in order to identify potential triggers. 

    adult asthma

    Treatment and Management of Adult-Onset Asthma

    Although asthma is a long-term illness, it can still be effectively managed with the right treatment. 

    Below are few things you may want to consider to help you live your life despite having it:

    • Continuously take your asthma medications such as preventers or relievers that are prescribed by your doctor.
    • Discuss any symptoms or concerns with your doctor to maintain and enhance your asthma control, either short term or long term. 
    • Create an asthma treatment strategy together with your doctor.
    • Consider making lifestyle and environmental changes to reduce triggers and check in with him/her regularly to modify the plan.

    Key Takeaway

    Adult-onset asthma should not get a hold of your life. Arm yourself with the necessary information and doctor’s prescriptions can help you live life without so much interference. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Mar 18, 2023

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