20 Things Millennials DO That Baby Boomers DON'T
6 Things Baby Boomers Can Do to Help Their Asthma
Research suggests that baby boomers living with asthma don't take the necessary steps to control it. Find out how older adults should manage their asthma for better health.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Only 53 percent of baby boomers living with asthma use an inhaler to control asthma symptoms, according to research published in theAnnals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. That can be a serious problem for boomers' health.
Poor asthma control among baby boomers might be a bigger problem than physicians realize. It applies to two separate groups of older adults: those diagnosed with asthma who are not caring for themselves properly and those yet to be diagnosed. Baby boomers have about the same risk for developing asthma as younger children and adults — at a rate of about 1 of every 1,000 people a year. Like in children, a family history of asthma and allergies increases the risk for adults.
Doctors may not suspect asthma in older adults and therefore do not perform the correct testing — including spirometry, home peak flow monitoring, and methacholine bronchoprovocation testing — to objectively diagnose asthma, says asthma expert Andrew Smith, MD, MS, an assistant professor of clinical medicine in the division of immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. Dr. Smith co-authored the baby boomers asthma study. It reviewed health information from 77 adults 60 and older and found that those with asthma had a significantly lower quality of life than their peers without asthma. "About 10 percent of older adults have asthma," says Smith. "It is therefore a relatively common [condition]."
Additionally, making a diagnosis can be complicated by other lung conditions that become more prevalent with age, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), vocal cord disorders, and a loss of lung function related to congestive heart failure, according to research published inSeminars in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Even after a diagnosis, baby boomers living with asthma may not use inhalers and other steps to control asthma as they should, findings published in theJournal of Asthmashow. Based on information submitted by primary care providers around the country, who reported on the health status of their patients during routine visits, about 58 percent of adults with asthma do not have control over their symptoms and their condition.
Why Baby Boomers Don't Control Asthma
There are a number of reasons why baby boomers skimp on asthma control efforts:
- Poor understanding of asthma.Smith suggests that even after adults are diagnosed, many might not see asthma as what it is: a chronic inflammatory condition requiring daily treatment. Instead, some view asthma as episodic inconvenience.
- Poor understanding of medications.Some people don't have a good understanding of why it's important to use medications regularly or when to use rescue inhalers and additional medications based on symptoms. Getting familiar with asthma medications is complicated by the fact that "each inhaler is different and requires its own education," says Smith.
- Lack of understanding which symptoms need treatment.Particularly for people who have not seen or experienced asthma before, it can be difficult to know whether breathing symptoms need treatment or should simply be endured. Also, says Smith, people may mistakenly believe that feeling short of breath is simply part of getting older. "In general, shortness of breath is not necessarily a normal part of aging and should be evaluated," he says.
- Cost of medications.Adults with asthma who have no or inadequate health insurance tend to have poorly controlled asthma. "Current inhaled medications are very effective, but can be quite expensive for those on a fixed income," Smith says. If cost is an issue, it's important to let your doctor know, he says, because doctors "can help work through barriers to treatment, such as changing to nebulized medication for Medicare coverage." Trying to solve the problem by only using medications every other day or less frequently than recommended won't keep asthma under control.
- Reluctance to medicate daily.Many people just don't like the idea of having to take medication on a regular basis, particularly maintenance medications that are not in response to specific symptoms.
- Smoking.Adults who have poorly controlled asthma are more likely to smoke. In fact, people who continue to smoke after an asthma diagnosis have a more difficult time controlling asthma symptoms because cigarette smoke is an irritant.
Many of these problems can be resolved by asking more questions of the doctors or nurses involved in your asthma treatment.
Asthma Tips for Better Baby Boomer Health
Better asthma control will result in concrete improvements to your quality of life, including fewer sick days from work, fewer emergency room visits, and fewer hospitalizations.
"Once it has developed, asthma should be aggressively treated to achieve control and maximize function in older adults," says Smith. Signs that your asthma needs better management include:
- Often having to limit your activity level
- Experiencing shortness of breath three or more times a week
- Having nighttime symptoms once a week or more
- Needing to use a rescue inhaler two or more times a week
- Experiencing an asthma exacerbation, or significant worsening, two or more times a year, despite efforts to control symptoms
Steps you can take to better manage asthma include:
- Get regular doctor visits.Check in with your doctor about your asthma at least twice a year, more often if your asthma is not controlled. Although you don't have to see a specialist, you may fare better working with a team that focuses on asthma, allergy, or lung health. While visiting your doctor, see if any other health conditions need attention. For example, poorly controlled asthma symptoms in adults seem to go along with a history of gastroesophageal symptoms — ask whether you need to get these or other chronic symptoms treated.
- Have asthma testing.At least once a year, get spirometry testing to check breathing capacity.
- Get smart about asthma.The hardest part may be learning the new vocabulary and tasks that go with managing asthma. Work with your team to understand how asthma affects your breathing, how to control triggers at home, and how to use your medications.
- Avoid triggers.Numerous triggers in your environment could worsen your asthma, including allergens like dust mites or irritants such as smoke. Even cold air can trigger asthma symptoms. Your medical team can help you figure out what may be setting off your particular asthma.
- Know your asthma action plan.You and your medical team should develop an action plan that outlines how you will avoid asthma triggers, when you will take your daily medications, and how you'll respond to symptoms that occur despite your maintenance medications, such as when to use a rescue inhaler.
- Aim for a healthier lifestyle.Being overweight and smoking are both independently linked to poorly controlled asthma symptoms. Talk to your doctor about overall health goals, such as achieving a healthy weight and quitting smoking.
"Asthma management is an active process," says Smith. To gain control and improve quality of life, you will have to take an active role in your treatment plan.
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