Adult Asthma and Aging

Asthma hits harder as we age

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Asthma can be difficult to control at any time of life. New research suggests, however, that older adults living with asthma may have more health issues as they age than younger adults with asthma.

Researchers studied two age groups of adults with current asthma to see what health issues they had over a 15-year period.

The older age group with asthma was much more likely to need hospitalization, have poorer lung health and have other sicknesses in addition to asthma.

The older adults with asthma also had a higher chance of death.

"Consult your doctor if you have trouble breathing."

Chu-Lin Tsai, MD, of the Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas, and colleagues wanted to find out if there were health differences between younger and older adults with current asthma.

In order to carry out the study, the researchers used data from 841 participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) done by the National Center for Health Statistics.

The NHANES III was conducted between 1988 and 1994. In December 2006, a follow-up was done to find out how many participants had died.  

The 841 participants that were included in this study all had current, medically diagnosed asthma.

The participants were assigned to two age groups. Those that were under 55 years old were in the younger group. Those that were over 55 were categorized as “older adults with asthma.”

Each of the participants was interviewed and examined by a doctor to assess their overall health. They also performed breathing tests that measured how much air their lungs could hold and how forcefully they could expel their breath.

Blood samples were collected for laboratory analysis.

Information was collected from each participant’s file as to whether or not they had died in between enrolling in the study and the December 2006 follow-up.

The researchers found significant differences between the two age groups regarding health issues. Older adults with asthma had more hospitalizations in the past year, were more likely to have other sicknesses as well as asthma and had lower lung function than younger adults with asthma.

Over the period of the study, older adults with asthma were seven times more likely to have died during the 15-year study period compared with younger adults.

Within both age groups of adults with asthma, those with a Mexican American race/ethnicity or a vitamin D deficiency had higher death rates. The authors noted that these links should be studied further.

Because the number of people included in the NHANES III study was so large, those 841 people with asthma actually represented 9,566,000 adults with current asthma. This means that the results of the current study are believed to represent the results of the whole population of adults with asthma.

“As the US population continues to age, the disease burden in older adults with asthma will continue to rise,” the authors wrote.

“Care of asthma in older adults needs to recognize these many age-related differences, and patient-tailored approaches would further improve clinical outcomes in older adults with asthma,” they concluded.

The study was published online on February 5 in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The research had no outside funding. The authors reported no potential conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 11, 2013
Last Updated:
February 13, 2013