Asthma in Older Adults

You can get asthma as an older adult even if you’ve never had it before. These are the special concerns of asthma in older adults:

  • It may be harder to diagnose.

  • It can be hard to tell asthma from other conditions that are more common in older adults. For instance, wheezing can occur in asthma and heart failure. And a long-term cough can occur in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both heart failure and COPD are more common as people get older.

It’s important to know for sure that you have asthma. That’s because the treatment of asthma and these other diseases is very different.

Asthma symptoms

If you have any of the symptoms below, see your healthcare provider. Your provider will ask you a lot of questions, do a physical exam, and likely order some tests. These can be symptoms of asthma:

  • Coughing, especially at night

  • Wheezing

  • Chest tightness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Breathing faster than normal

  • Getting out of breath easily

  • Feeling tired or weak

The symptoms above may also be from other lung problems, heart problems, or infections. They can also be symptoms of many other conditions.

Treating asthma

Here are common ways that asthma is treated.

Avoid asthma triggers

One of the most important parts of treatment is staying away from the things that cause your asthma symptoms. Examples of these are:

  • Allergens such as pollen, dust mites, dander, or mold. Nonallergic triggers include cold air, weather changes, pollution, and smoke.

  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke from smoking or secondhand smoke, and air pollution. Smokers should quit.

  • Stress, exercise, and upper respiratory infections (viruses or bacteria). These can make asthma symptoms worse.


You may need to take medicines by mouth (oral) or through an inhaler.


Staying away from triggers and taking medicines are part of self-care for asthma. So is carefully watching for symptoms that get worse. You need to know what to do if your asthma is getting worse. Having an asthma action plan will help. Work with your healthcare provider to create a plan.

Overall good health

Get about 8 hours of sleep each night. Exercise or be active for about 30 minutes on most days. Stay engaged with family and friends. And keep up-to-date on recommended vaccinations. It's also important to eat healthy. That means:

  • Lots of fruits and vegetables

  • 100% whole grains

  • Lean meats and fish

  • Low-fat milk, cheeses, and other dairy products

  • Limited alcohol use

Specialist care

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you see other providers. For example, you may need to see an allergist or lung specialist (pulmonologist).

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2021
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.