Aging adults may be ignoring dangerous asthma symptoms

Photo of someone holding an inhaler. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Health experts say asthma is often going under-treated and under-diagnosed in older adults. That can lead to sleep problems, emergency room visits and even heart issues and many people might be writing it off as something different all together.

Many people might think it’s a lingering cold or chronic allergies, but that can be dangerous over time. Estimates vary, but up to nine percent of older adults are thought to have asthma, the respiratory condition is known to inflame the lung and make breathing difficult.

Studies show death rates for seniors with asthma are five times that of younger patients and medical complications are more common. Our bodies are less able to deal with asthma symptoms as we age and compromised vision, fine motor coordination, and cognition can even it make it more difficult to use an inhaler correctly. But that’s just for those who know they have asthma.

One medical journal says up to half of older adults with asthma have not been accurately diagnosed. Dr. Elisa Illing, an otalaryngologist at IU Health, said many people who experience coughing or shortness of breath just attribute it to sinus issues or being out-of-shape.

“We find that patients can develop allergies with time and also asthma later in life and so that can be exercise induced or allergic related, so definitely if they have concerns they should bring it up to their physician,” Dr Illing said.

If you do talk to your doctor and they decide to check for asthma, Dr. Illing said the test is quite simple.

“The doctor will use a small machine to have you take a deep breath in and then blow out as hard as you can over about a second and they’ll test that volume of air that you can press out to tell if that is within the normal range or if it’s a little lower than it should be and then they can give you medicines to see if it improves that breathing,” Dr. Illing said.

Dr. Illing said some asthma patients may have felt better over time or stopped filling their inhaler prescription because of the cost. Research does show older adults tend to prioritize other medical conditions over asthma.