Asthma & the Older Adult Series: Managing Your Asthma

  • So, you've been diagnosed with asthma for the first time as an older adult? Well, welcome to an ever-growing club! More and more older adults are being diagnosed with asthma these days. I talked about why in the previous post in this series.


    But what's important to realize is that although there is no cure for asthma -- it's a chronic illness -- it IS very treatable. With the right asthma management plan, there is little reason why asthma should interfere with everyday life, whether you're a child or an older adult.


    However, managing asthma in older adults IS more challenging. Here are some reasons why:

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    • Older adults may be more stoic and less likely to notice a worsening of symptoms.
    • Older adults often have multiple health conditions and/or multiple medications that can interfere with asthma treatment.
    • Asthma medications can have side effects that can complicate other conditions, including heart disease and osteoporosis.
    • Because of cognitive losses or muscle/joint problems, seniors may have trouble using medical devices, such as inhalers, effectively.

    Managing Your Asthma

    Getting your asthma under control, and keeping it under control, is always the goal of asthma treatment, no matter what your age. The best way to do that is by having an asthma management plan that includes knowledge, medications, avoidance of triggers and a healthy lifestyle.


    Learn All You Can About Asthma

    No matter what kind of health issue you're dealing with, your first line of defense will always be knowledge. They say, "Knowledge is power!" and when it comes to your health, nothing could be truer. Arm yourself in the fight to stay healthy by learning all that you can about asthma and how to manage it. You'll find tons of information right here on, but you can also read books on asthma, ask lots of questions of your doctor or his/her nurse or join an asthma support group.


    Whatever you do, just make sure you're getting your information from a reliable source of health information. That's probably NOT your neighbor, family member or acquaintance, whether they have asthma themselves or not. There's a lot of misinformation and myths out there, so make sure you're getting the facts about asthma.


    Take Your Medicine

    Next, your doctor will probably prescribe some sort of inhaled steroid medication. This is a medication that you take every day (or twice a day) to help your airways expand and relax, so that asthma symptoms are greatly minimized, or hopefully, prevented altogether. You breathe this medicine in, using some sort of inhaler device.


    The traditional type of inhaler is a small device called a metered dose inhaler (MDI) that transforms liquid medicine into a fine mist. When used correctly, it's effective. But using it correctly can be challenging for anyone, especially senior citizens. The procedure is slightly complicated, requires strength and flexibility, and doesn't allow much margin for error. When not used correctly, you won't get all of the medicine you're supposed to and that can lead to poor asthma control.


    Luckily, there is a new type of device that is easier to use. It's called a dry powder inhaler, or DPI for short. To use it, all you have to do is breathe in. Medicines like Advair and Symbicort are taken via a DPI device.


    Sometimes older adults find it easier or more effective to take asthma medications using a device called a nebulizer. Nebulizers, like MDIs, turn liquid medicine into a fine mist, but instead of one or two puffs, you breathe in this mist through a flexible tubing for several minutes.


    Inhaled steroids are usually effective in treating asthma, but if your symptoms persist, the doctor may need to add in other medications to help. You should also have a quick-relief inhaler (also know and a "rescue inhaler." The medication used in these is called a bronchodilator) that you can take from time to time when asthma symptoms start to act up.

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    Make sure you understand your asthma medications, how much to take and when. If you need help using an inhaler or a nebulizer, ask your doctor's staff or your pharmacist to show you or to check your technique. If you miss a dose, try to get back on track as soon as you can. Don't double up doses when you feel worse or stop taking the medication if you're feeling better. Consistent following of the plan as prescribed by your doctor is essential to your ongoing health.


    Know -- And Avoid -- Your Asthma Triggers

    An important part of managing asthma is knowing what sets off (triggers) your symptoms. If your asthma is related to allergies, then identify what you're allergic to and work to avoid those things. Common allergens are:

    • Tree, grass, and weed pollen
    • Dust mites
    • Animal dander, urine and saliva
    • Mold spores
    • Insect droppings

    Learn how to avoid your asthma triggers here


    Whether you're allergic or not, there are other substances and conditions that can also trigger asthma symptoms. They're known as irritants and include:

    • Tobacco smoke, whether you're the smoker or it's secondhand
    • Strong odors
    • Wood smoke, from campfires of wood-burning stoves/fireplaces
    • Chemical fumes
    • Air pollution, car exhaust
    • Sawdust, powder
    • Cold air and/or extreme weather
    • Stress, strong emotions

    It's hard sometimes to figure out what our triggers are. But if you keep a detailed diary of your symptoms and what you were doing when they came on, you'll eventually figure it out!


    Team Up With Your Doctor

    One of the best ways to take control of your health is to start working in close partnership with your doctor. That's right, you don't have to give up all the control to him or her just because you're not a professional! It's your body and who knows it better than you? (Especially when you get to your senior years... all that life experience is worth something, right?)


    So, advocate for yourself. I've already talked about how important it is to learn about asthma. But also, be sure to ask lots of questions when you see your doctor. It's your right -- and responsibility. Let your doctor know you want to do everything you can to stay healthy.


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    In my next post, I'll talk about strategies to help older adults with asthma stay healthy.



    Part 1:Getting the Right Diagnosis

    This Post: Manging Asthma As an Older Adult

    Part 3: Staying Healthy as an Older Adult With Asthma

Published On: November 11, 2009