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Someone having trouble breathing.

4 Ways to Help Asthma Symptoms in Seniors

What Are the Common Asthma Symptoms in Seniors?

Asthma is a common and long-term condition which causes wheezing and difficulty in breathing. While it is not known exactly what causes it, we do know the triggers, and this includes triggers for asthma symptoms in seniors as well.

Asthma often runs in families, so if your nearest and dearest suffer, then there is an increased chance you will too. People who have allergies are also at a higher risk. Some forms of asthma start in childhood, but it can also develop when you are older. For some adults, it can be traced back to breathing in substances from their working environments such as bakeries, welding, or spray painting.

What Happens in the Body With Asthma?


When you have asthma, the airways which carry air to and from your lungs become very sensitive. This can means that the muscles around your airway become tight, reducing the space for the air to flow. The lining of the airway can also become inflamed, which then causes a build-up of sputum. This also then reduces the space for the air to flow. With the smaller airway, it makes it harder for air to circulate in your body.

Common Asthma Symptoms

When the airways narrow a little, the symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tight chest
  • Coughing

If the airways close further, the lack of oxygen reaching the lungs and bloodstream can reach a critical level, which requires immediate medical attention.

Asthma in Seniors

Even though asthma is most often associated with younger people, seniors who are over 55 are much more likely to suffer than any other age group. In fact, it is thought that up to 10% of seniors may be affected. Worryingly, research also shows that we are much more likely to be both underdiagnosed and undertreated for asthma as we get older.

As we age, the structure of our lungs begins to change and that can exaggerate symptoms associated with asthma. These changes can then make it difficult to clearly distinguish between asthma and conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). If you have smoked, then that can also make the diagnosis much harder.

How to Help Asthma Symptoms in Seniors

As we get older, our immune systems can start to struggle more than when we were younger. While there is nothing specific that we can do to boost the immune system, staying healthy will help it cope more effectively when called upon.

Diet

If we can avoid becoming overweight and make sure that we eat a balanced diet, then we can help our bodies to sustain our immunity functions.

We know, for example, that vitamins A, C and D, along with zinc, all support the immune system to work effectively. Now, adding more than the recommended amounts is not going to help your immune system to become stronger. So, unless advised by your physician, popping lots of vitamin tablets will not make any difference if you already have a balanced diet.

Exercise

Taking some gentle exercise increases your heart rate and this can improve your asthma symptoms. This is because it can boost your lung power and it reduces breathlessness.

There are other benefits to exercise too, including:

  • Helping you to stay a healthy weight which reduces the risk of an asthma attack
  • Releasing feel-good chemicals in your brain. Did you know that if you are stressed or feeling depressed, you could be at a higher risk of experiencing asthma symptoms?

There is no need to sign up for a marathon. Exercise can include going for a walk each day, playing with the grandchildren, or doing some gardening. Some people find that the focus on breathing, which comes from yoga and tai chi, can be helpful.

Medication

For many people who have asthma, the primary medication is the use of their inhaler. The preventer inhaler stops inflammation and swelling from happening to begin with. They're used every day, usually morning and evening, and they can help the airway to become less sensitive. Now, you may feel tempted to stop using the inhaler if you do not have any symptoms, but the benefits are cumulative, so that means that regular use results in fewer asthma attacks.

Meanwhile, the blue reliever inhaler is used when the symptoms of asthma begin to build. It quickly gets medicine straight to the lungs, so that the muscles surrounding the airways can relax. As they open more, breathing becomes easier and most people gain relief within just a few minutes.

As we become older, our needs can change, and there are also new and more effective medications being developed all the time. So, do make sure that you regularly chat with your physician to make sure that you are getting the best options for your needs.

Vaccines and Asthma

Influenza vaccines (or flu shots) can be critical safeguards against the severe complications that can come from a combination of asthma and flu. Although you may have heard rumors as to whether they are a safe option for asthma sufferers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that flu shots have a long-established safety record in people with asthma.

Pneumococcal vaccines protect against a range of bacterial infections, which can cause pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. Now there are two different vaccines, PCV13 and PPSV23. Existing health conditions and whether you smoke or not can make one more suitable than the other, so do chat with your vaccine provider about which is the best one for you.