Asthma is often thought of as a lung disorder that starts in childhood. However, you can get asthma that starts in adulthood. Late-onset asthma is often missed or mistaken for other lung disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of adult-onset asthma so you can get evaluated by a health professional.

Here at Riviera Allergy Medical Center, allergy and immunology specialist Ulrike Ziegner, MD, wants patients to understand the signs of adult-onset asthma as well as what can cause the condition. If you have signs of adult-onset asthma, Dr. Ziegner will give you a comprehensive evaluation, and if you have it, help you manage the condition.

Asthma can start in adulthood

Most people assume that asthma only develops in childhood. This assumption can make it easy to miss signs and symptoms of adult-onset asthma. Although many people first develop asthma during childhood, symptoms can develop at any time. 

Asthma is a chronic lung disorder that usually leads to episodes of difficulty breathing. It causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways and increases mucus production. Common warning signs include: 

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

An accurate diagnosis is vital in developing an effective treatment plan.

Adult-onset asthma vs. childhood asthma 

There are some key differences between children who are diagnosed with asthma and people who are diagnosed with asthma for the first time in adulthood. Some of the differences include the following:


Asthma that develops in children is most often related to allergies, while adult-onset asthma is not.

Harder to control

Adult-onset asthma is often more challenging to control than asthma that starts during childhood. This makes it crucial to develop a strong collaborative relationship with your asthma specialist and to follow your treatment plan as prescribed.

More severe 

When asthma strikes adults, it’s often more severe and associated with faster lung decline. Furthermore, adults are more likely to have contributing factors, such as chest wall stiffening, which can make the symptoms more severe.

Persistent symptoms

Asthma diagnosed in childhood typically causes symptoms that come and go. Adult-onset asthma, on the other hand, usually causes persistent symptoms.

Increased heart disease risk

Patients first diagnosed with asthma in adulthood have a higher-than-average risk for heart disease. It would be wise, therefore, to have a cardiologist as part of your care team. While research suggests there’s a link between poor lung function and heart disease, experts aren’t clear as to why.

Delayed diagnosis 

Adults who develop asthma often take a longer path to receiving an accurate diagnosis than children with asthma. The delay in getting a correct diagnosis is because adult-onset asthma is often confused with other conditions. Dr. Ziegner diagnoses adult-onset asthma through lung function testing, a physical exam, and a review of your medical history.

Living well with adult-onset asthma

Managing adult-onset asthma involves taking medication as prescribed, recognizing the signs of a flare-up, and treating symptoms as soon as possible. Avoiding known triggers and things that may exacerbate your symptoms also plays an important role in managing the condition.

Smoking is a major factor in worsening asthma symptoms. If you smoke cigarettes, you should quit. If you need help quitting, talk to your primary care provider about medication, counseling, and resources to help you quit.

More research is needed to understand the risks of developing adult-onset asthma. In some cases, changes in hormones may play a role in adult-onset asthma. Women are more likely to receive an asthma diagnosis in adulthood. Additionally, being overweight has emerged as a major risk factor for adult-onset asthma. 

If you have asthma symptoms, don’t ignore them. With the right treatment plan, you can control your symptoms, reduce the risk of complications, and lead a good quality of life. For more information and for a complete evaluation, book an appointment online or over the phone with Riviera Allergy Medical Center today.

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