Asthma’s not just for kids. More and more adults are developing this lung-damaging condition that steals your breath, zaps your energy and even can threaten your life. Trouble is, warning signs of adult asthma are tough to spot, and a new survey shows plenty of people overlook them!
Nearly 1 in 13 American adults has this breathing problem, and there’s evidence that even more are living with it. For half, it kicks up in adulthood, sometimes without the classic symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath. A stubborn cough, sleep problems and chest pain are red flags missed by 35 to 49 percent of people in a brand-new poll from Colorado’s respected respiratory health center, National Jewish Health.
Asthma sends millions of people to the emergency room and kills thousands each year. Controlling asthma with a smart medication plan and a healthy lifestyle can help you feel like yourself again — and get you back to doing what you love, keeping your RealAge younger. Here’s what you need to know about spotting and easing this grown-up breathing problem:
▪ Adult asthma’s got grown-up triggers. Lung irritants such as tobacco smoke and airborne chemicals like oil fragrances and air fresheners can set off adult asthma. So can inflammation from lung infections like pneumonia or chronic sinus problems, along with factors you might not associate with your lungs, including emotional stress, extra pounds and chronic sinus problems. Women are 20 percent more likely to develop it than men.
▪ You and your doctor might overlook it. That age-related loss of muscle mass that begins in our 30s doesn’t just affect your abs and thighs. Lung muscles weaken, too, leading to a gradual drop in lung power (great reason to keep on exercising!). Breathing a little harder after a walk around the block, doing simple chores out in cold weather or when you’re around pets, pollen, dust, fumes, strong odors or tobacco smoke might seem like normal aging, but it could mask asthma. Same goes for breathing problems that wake you up at night.
▪ Asthma management means medications (and more). If you are diagnosed, work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan, then stick to it. For some reason (likely because nobody’s nagging and tracking), adults are more likely than kids to get lax about controlling their asthma. An estimated 30 to 70 percent don’t use their meds the way their doc recommended, boosting risk for severe asthma attacks and trips to the ER. Know which meds to take when, including daily controllers and emergency rescue drugs. Keep tabs on lung capacity with home breathing checks, too. If you’re confused about your plan or can’t afford your asthma medications, don’t delay. Talk with your doc about ways to make things simpler and more affordable.
▪ But don’t stop there. Healthy meals and regular exercise can help, too. A diet packed with colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids (from salmon, wild trout, walnuts, avocados) fuels the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defenses that help keep your lungs strong. Take a daily, 30 minute walk (talk to your doc about the meds to take along if you have exercise-induced asthma); in one recent study, aerobic exercise made asthma symptoms milder. In another report, people who exercised for 30 minutes a day were 2 1/2 times more likely to have their asthma under control than those who didn’t. Stress-soothing yoga also helps improve daily life for people with asthma.
▪ Get tough about your triggers. Allergy-inducing irritants like pet dander, dust mites, pollen, mold spores, fumes from cleaning products and air fresheners (they’re really air blockers), and smoke from your neighbor’s cigars all could set off an asthma attack. But too often, adults with asthma aren’t sure what set off their symptoms. ID your personal triggers (an allergist can help), then steer clear. And be prepared to deal with common adult-asthma triggers you can’t avoid, like air pollution and weather changes.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.