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Who Is Most Affected by Asthma?

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Raquel Durban, MS, RD, LD/N
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Raquel Durban, MS, RD, LD/N

Few feelings in life are scarier than not being able to breathe, yet for asthma sufferers the world over, it’s a common feeling. Asthma is defined as a chronic condition that affects the airways, closing these due to inflammation. What results is a sense of breathlessness. An incurable condition, by understanding more about asthma, you can make smart choices in your day-to-day life and limit asthma attacks.

Who Is Affected the Most by Asthma?

Both children and adults can be affected by asthma. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or ACAAI, there are about seven million children in the United States who have asthma. There are even more adults with this condition, 19 million per the most recent data available.

How Common Is Asthma?

If you believe you have asthma, you’re not alone. The ACAAI states that about 26 million people in the US are living with this condition. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America or AAFA says the number is slightly lower at only 25 million. The AAFA calls asthma “one of the most common and costly diseases.”

What Causes Asthma?

Before we can get into what causes asthma, let’s first discuss the kinds you may have. There’s nonallergic asthma and allergic asthma. Both have different triggers, which we will get into below.

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that if a parent has asthma, then the children often will as well. Sometimes environmental factors can also play a role; typically, half of asthma cases are from these factors, says WHO.

What Can Trigger Asthma?

With nonallergic asthma, you could have symptoms due to weather extremes (windy weather, wet weather, dry weather and very cold air), stress, exercising too vigorously, getting the flu or a cold, air irritants (including strong smells, chemical odors and smoke) and some medications.

If you have allergic asthma, then any allergens can cause constricted airways. These include food additives, medications and drugs, mold, dust mites, pet dander, pollen (from weeds, trees, and/or grass) and more.

Those with asthma who encounter an asthma trigger may experience symptoms like wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath or inability to breathe, and coughing. Wheezing is defined as a noise that sounds like a squeak or whistle that is most apparent during exhalation. It emanates from the chest.

Can You Get Asthma When You Get Older?

As you know from the stats above, more adults than children have asthma. Of course, that poses the question: When in life did they start showing symptoms? Have they had asthma all their lives? Can asthma develop in older individuals?

The answer is yes, it can. If you’re 20 or older, you can have what is known as adult-onset asthma. This can affect people at any age, including their 30s through their 60s and even older. That means it’s always important to prioritize your health, because even if you’ve had a life free of asthma so far, that can change.

If you have pet allergies (cat allergies specifically), other air borne allergies, you’re obese, you’ve recently had the flu or a cold, or you’re a woman with fluctuating hormone levels, such as a recent pregnancy or menopause, you could get adult-onset asthma.

There’s also what’s known as occupational asthma. This is when the environmental factors at your place of work lead to the development of asthma. These factors may include breathing in excessive perfume, feather beds, dust, mold, tobacco smoke and other smoke.

The symptoms of adult-onset asthma and occupational asthma are often the same as those outlined above.

How Is Asthma Managed?

As mentioned, there is no asthma cure. That means that, if you’re diagnosed with this condition, you must be diligent every single day to avoid asthma attacks (to the best of your abilities). The best way to do that is to be aware of what causes an asthma attack for you and then stay away from that trigger.

Asthma triggers aren’t necessarily the same for everyone. Some people are much more bothered by pollen and other allergens than others. For those people, it may be the weather or strong scents that cause asthma symptoms.

Of course, if you do have asthma, you should see an asthma doctor regularly. Together, the two of you can formulate a treatment plan. This, in addition to staying away from your personal asthma triggers, may include medication.

The ACAAI says that asthma rates are going up in the US. Many people, 14 million annually, will schedule an appointment with their doctor to discuss their asthma. Sometimes symptoms get to the point where patients must go to the emergency room; annually, about 1.75 million people will. Fewer will go to a hospital outpatient department each year, only 1.4 million.

Further, adults with asthma will expect to give up 14.2 million annual workdays that must be spent at home monitoring symptoms. For children, it’s 10.5 annual schooldays that are spent at home.

Can Asthma Be Fatal?

Yes, absolutely, asthma can be fatal. Since this condition affects your airways and restricts breathing, it is possible to die from an asthma episode. In fact, the ACAAI says that each year, nearly 3,330 people have a fatal episode.

Asthma is sometimes misdiagnosed or is not treated and managed properly and regularly, death can occur. That’s why it’s so important to keep appointments with your doctor. If you and your doctor can’t pin down what’s causing the condition, then see an allergist.

Whether you have asthma at night or symptoms in the morning, we encourage you to set up an appointment at Carolina Asthma & Allergy Center in Charlotte. We have more than 50 years of exemplary service treating and aiding those with asthma, venom allergies, drug allergies, food allergies and more. It is possible to enjoy a fulfilling life, even if you do have asthma. Contact us today to learn more or schedule an appointment.

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To schedule or request an appointment with one of our physicians, please call 704-372-7900