Practical Considerations for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma in Older Adults

Barbara P Yawn, MeiLan K Han
Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2017, 92 (11): 1697-1705
Although often considered a disease of childhood, the prevalence of asthma in US adults aged 65 years or older is similar to that in children, with the number of older patients needing care for asthma likely to continue to increase. As with most chronic diseases, there are challenges associated with the diagnosis and management of asthma in an older population. This review discusses these challenges, suggesting practical management strategies for primary care physicians and their teams. Asthma comprises a spectrum of phenotypes, some associated with adult onset. The symptoms and characteristics of patients with late-onset asthma can differ from those of patients with early-onset disease. Furthermore, older patients may fail to recognize respiratory symptoms as abnormal and have other comorbidities, complicating the differential diagnosis of asthma. Once diagnosed, the long-term goals of asthma management are no different in older adults than in anyone with asthma, with inhaled corticosteroids being the cornerstone of therapy. Comorbid conditions become more common with age and have a direct impact on a patient's respiratory symptoms and potential adverse effects of therapy, thereby influencing the choice of therapies and delivery systems and potentially increasing the likelihood of complex polypharmacy. In conclusion, asthma, although traditionally considered a disease of the young, should be considered as a potential diagnosis in older adults with respiratory symptoms, even without a history of asthma or allergies. As with all patients, the primary goals of asthma management in older adults are symptom control and exacerbation reduction.


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