Menopausal Transition Can Trigger Adult-Onset Asthma

Patient Expert

Recently a friend shared that she has been diagnosed with moderate persistent asthma, which is a new diagnosis for her. "It basically means I have symptoms pretty much daily and some are severe," she said. "I have never been told I had asthma before so this situation has been surprising. What was even more surprising is that I have been reading that women in menopause (yes, me) have more problems with asthma - as do women who are pregnant. The changes in hormones trigger asthma."

I was surprised by her diagnosis and did a little research. It turns out that asthma isn't just a childhood disease. And yes, the hormonal fluctuations that occur in menopause can trigger adult-onset asthma. Allergies also are believed to play a big role in the development of adult-onset asthma since approximately 80 percent of people who have asthma have allergies.

Asthma symptoms in older adults may seem like other illnesses or diseases, such as a hiatal hernia, stomach issues, rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Doctors may misdiagnose asthma since most adults lose lung capacity starting in middle age. However, untreated asthma may cause greater loss in your lung function.

The signs of adult onset asthma include the following:

  • A dry cough that happens during the night or due to specific triggers.
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing when exhaling
  • Experiencing shortness of breath after exercising.
  • Colds that extend for 10 days
  • Colds that go into the chest.

Estrogen supplements also may be a contributor to asthma. In fact, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America stated that researchers have found that women who take estrogen supplements for a decade following their last menstrual period are 50 percent more likely to develop asthma than postmenopausal women who have never used estrogen.

If you develop asthma, you may need to make some lifestyle adjustments. Here are some things to think about:

  • Exercise - The Asthma Society of Canada warns that if you have any limitations in your ability to exercise due to asthma, your asthma is not being properly controlled. If this is the case, you actually may experience worsening symptoms so it's important to focus on working with your doctor to control your asthma before you start exercising. Furthermore, you might experience exercise-induced asthma which strikes 5-10 minutes after exercising. This situation occurs because of humidity and temperature changes in the body's airways. Triggers include length of time spent exercising, the temperature and humidity while exercising, and triggers such as allergens and air pollution that are present in the air. However, it's also important to get regular exercise since physical activity will improve your heart and lung function. Therefore, work with your doctor to come up with an exercise regimen that's right for your situation.
  • Diet - The George Mateljan Foundation reports that eating a Mediterranean diet can provide antioxidant support that promotes respiratory health. Additionally, nutrients such as magnesium, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene are believed to enhance lung function. Foods to consume regularly include organically grown fruits and vegetables, especially apples, garlic, onions, chard, spinach, broccoli, parsley, bell peppers, strawberries, cauliflower, lemons, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, Brussel sprouts, papaya, turnip greens, kale, cabbage, kiwifruit, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, collard greens, raspberries, peppermint leaves, asparagus, celery, fennel bulb, pineapple, winter squash, apricots, guava, persimmons, crimini mushrooms, and watermelon. Other beneficial foods include tea, calf liver, cold water fish (cod, salmon, mackerel, herring and halibut), shrimp, snapper, yellowfin tuna, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, cayenne pepper,   ginger and turmeric. Foods to avoid eating include milk and other dairy products as well as eggs. The foundation also warns against eating a diet that is high in vegetable oils (such as corn oil and safflower oil), farm-raised meats, margarine, salt and artificial food additives (such as food colorings and preservatives) since these foods are associated with increased rates of asthma
  • Other triggers - These triggers include pets (due to their dander, saliva, oil secretions, urine and feces), smoking, pollution, pollens, cold air, and indoor hazards such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold and chemical fumes.

As my friend learned, asthma isn't only a childhood condition. Therefore, it's important to work with your doctor and take appropriate steps to protect your respiratory health as you go through the menopausal transition.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (2005). Adult onset of asthma.

Asthma Society of Canada. (2014). Lifestyle.

George Matlejan Foundation. (ND). Asthma.