Ask anyone who suffers from asthma: it’s a worrying condition that makes breathing difficult and triggers coughing attacks, wheezing (a whistling sound) when they exhale, itchy eyes, sore throat, and shortness of breath.
Although commonly thought of as a “childhood condition”, asthma can last well into adulthood and even into a person’s 60s, 70s, and 80s. However, unlike in younger patients, asthma in older people rarely goes into remission. This makes this condition particularly dangerous for the elderly as they are at risk of developing respiratory failure due to asthma, even when the symptoms are mild.
Asthma can’t be cured, but with the proper strategies, its symptoms can be minimized to protect the health of the older person in your life.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell. They may also produce extra mucus. Symptoms are often triggered by pollen, the fine powder released by flowering plants. Pollen is spread by wind and can settle in a person’s skin, nose, and lungs, causing an allergic reaction.
Animal dander, dust mites, tobacco smoke, outdoor air pollution, mold, and pets, can also trigger attacks. Asthma is common among people who smoke, live with smokers, or reside in urban areas.
September is a tough month for people with asthma or other allergies. Mold develops as leaves begin to pile up outside. Ragweed, the most common fall pollen allergy, peaks during this month. With the flu season approaching, respiratory illnesses start to increase.
With all of these factors coinciding, asthma triggers become much more commonplace in the early fall – and more dangerous when asthma attacks strike older people.
Why is asthma different for older people?
As we age, our bodies undergo significant changes that can make asthma more severe. Our lungs become less elastic, our chest walls more rigid, and the muscles that support the respiratory system weaker. As a result, breathing problems worsen. This can spell trouble in the older person whose health is already compromised by other conditions like asthma, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
An asthma diagnosis in older people can sometimes be missed because asthma symptoms are similar to other diseases. For example, asthma in older adults tends to present itself in the form of coughing sputum (the fluid coughed out) from the lungs. This symptom might be interpreted as being due to chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure, or other conditions. Heart disease and emphysema, which are more common in older adults, especially those who smoke, can also mimic asthma symptoms.
Asthma symptoms in older people are typically the same as those experienced by children. However, one key difference is that younger people are often diagnosed after having difficulty breathing with exercise. Older people might not be as active, lessening the opportunities for the condition to present itself.
It’s critical for older people who develop asthma symptoms during everyday household activities to see their doctor as soon as possible.
How to reduce asthma severity in older people
With a few simple lifestyle changes, it’s still possible to enjoy life as an older person with asthma. Here are some ways your elderly loved one can reduce the severity of asthma symptoms:
- Avoid visiting outdoor areas with lots of grass, trees, and foliage, especially during the spring and fall
- Shower or bathe after spending time outdoors
- Keep windows closed at night to stop pollens and molds from drifting inside
- Roll up the windows when riding in the car
- Wash hands and change clothes after handling animals
- Use a clothes dryer instead of an outdoor clothesline where pollens can attach to wet clothes
- Remove asthma triggers such as scented candles and perfumes from your home
- If you smoke or your elderly loved one smokes, try to quit together and encourage other smokers in the household to do the same
- Avoid outdoor activities when daily pollen counts are high
- Use an air purifier, air conditioner, or dehumidifier indoors to keep indoor air clean
- Although the link between food consumption and asthma is inconclusive, it may help to eat food with nutrients known to protect the body against respiratory illnesses, such as:
- Berries, kale, grapes, and other fruits and vegetables high in flavonoids and are known to have potent anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects
- Fish, almonds, pumpkin, and other foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Probiotics found in many yogurts that can lower allergic rhinitis symptoms
- Consider getting the annual flu shot
- Seek medical advice from the family doctor or allergist about prescription medication that can provide quick relief from symptoms as well as long-term control
It’s also critical for the older person to talk to their doctor about using over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. Some of these products may cause anxiety, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, urinary retention, and other unpleasant side effects.
With proper management, asthma won’t be able to stop your elderly loved one from enjoying the things they love to do at any time of year!
If you have any questions about asthma control for an older adult you’re caring for or need our professional eldercare services to provide extra support, please get in touch with the CareHop team anytime! We look forward to helping you!
In-home eldercare support in Etobicoke, Mississauga, and Brampton
When your older loved one needs professional in-home care, Carehop is ready to help with exceptionally compassionate care delivered by fully-trained and qualified caregivers. Our professional 24/7 on-demand or live-in respite care focuses on your loved one’s individual needs to ensure that they experience joy and sunshine in their home, every day.
We can also help with day-to-day tasks such as homemaking, cooking, personal care, and keeping your loved one engaged with activities, bringing peace of mind that their care needs are always kept first and foremost.
For more information about our in-home services, please feel free to contact us anytime. We’d love to discuss how our approach to quality health care can support your loved one and family when you need it the most.