Over 25 million people in the United States have asthma, and about 6 million of those are children. Lung disease is characterized by an overreaction to stimuli that cause lung inflammation. For some people, allergens are the stimuli, but other people don’t have a known cause.
While many people with asthma have had it since childhood, it’s not uncommon for asthma to develop for the first time in adults. It’s natural to have questions if you’ve been diagnosed with adult-onset asthma. Here’s what you should know about childhood versus adult-onset asthma.
Childhood and adult-onset asthma are similar
First, it’s important to know that whether asthma develops when you’re a child or not until you’re well into your adult years, the condition is the same. Asthma is a lung disease characterized by coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightening. These symptoms typically present as “attacks” that come and go. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and frequency varies greatly from person to person.
Some people go long periods without having an attack, while others have them frequently. Additionally, some people experience attacks when they exercise, known as exercise-induced asthma.
Adult-onset asthma is trickier to diagnose than childhood asthma
An estimated 10-20% of adults with asthma developed it for the first time as an adult. It’s possible that the number of adults with adult-onset asthma is higher. However, asthma is tricky to diagnose in adults because it shares symptoms with other conditions.
For example, an adult who smokes cigarettes and experiences coughing, wheezing and other symptoms associated with asthma may be diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing, similar to asthma, making it more challenging to make the right diagnosis in adults.
Some people who develop asthma in adulthood may be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, another lung condition with similar symptoms. If you suspect that you have asthma, or if you have any issues with your breathing, it’s crucial to see a specialist like Dr. Ulrike Ziegner for an accurate diagnosis.
Adult-onset asthma usually requires long-term management
While childhood and adult-onset asthma are similar, there are subtle differences. Some children who develop asthma outgrow it in adulthood. For reasons that remain unclear, the condition may go into remission for some children. However, we know that the same isn’t true for adults. Most people who develop asthma as adults will continue to need treatment. Adult-onset asthma goes into remission in about 5% of adults. The rest will need adequate management long-term.
Women are at a higher risk for adult-onset asthma
We aren’t sure why, but more women than men develop adult-onset asthma. This may be related to female hormones, but we do know that women who develop adult-onset asthma commonly have more symptoms at the start of their period, suggesting the hormonal role in triggering asthma symptoms.
Childhood asthma linked to allergies
In the children we treat at Riviera Allergy Medical Center, asthma is strongly associated with allergies. Children who have asthma are much more likely to have allergies than people who develop asthma in adulthood.
However, people with adult-onset asthma tend to be more sensitive to allergens like dust particles than people without asthma. If you have adult-onset asthma, you may notice that certain things in the indoor or outdoor environment trigger symptoms or make them worse.
Whether your asthma developed in childhood or adulthood, the goals for treatment are still to identify and minimize or avoid triggers, monitor peak flow and symptoms, and take medications to control symptoms as prescribed. Treatment is highly individualized and directed by Dr. Ulrike and her team.
Adults are more likely than children to take medication for other conditions, so it’s important to let the doctor know about all the medications and supplements you take.
With proper symptom management, children and adults with asthma lead healthy lives. To learn more about diagnosis and treatment of childhood and adult-onset asthma, schedule an appointment with Dr. Ulrike by calling our Redondo Beach, California, office. For your convenience, you can also request an appointment using our online scheduling tool.