Can You Develop Asthma As An Adult?

In this blog, we will briefly cover Asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs. We provide an insight into the causes, which include a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors, and the symptoms, which can vary from person to person. We will also discuss the possibility of developing Asthma as an adult, a condition known as adult-onset Asthma.
Greta Daniskova

Greta Daniskova

Greta is a BSc Biomedical Science student at the University of Westminster, London.

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What is Asthma?

Asthma is characterised by chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Chronic inflammation causes the airways to become narrower down to the level of the submucosal glands that produce mucus. As a result, breathing becomes more difficult.

In asthma, this inflammation often leads to chronic constriction of the bronchial tubes due to the tightening of the bronchial muscles, which further limits breathing – either by causing wheezing or blocking the airways almost completely with mucus or fluid. Asthma can be a lifelong and even fatal condition that requires appropriate treatment [1, 2].

What are the Causes of Asthma?

The exact reasons for the development of asthma are not completely clear, but the disease seems to result from a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors.

Among the factors recognized as inducers of asthma are family history of asthma disease, allergens such as dust mites, mold, pets, pollen and faeces from pests such as cockroaches and mice, viral infections of the respiratory tracts, chemicals and fumes, and smoke, obesity, and certain fine forms of air pollution (e.g., ozone, nitrous dioxide, small particulate matter not visible to the naked eye).

Overweight and obesity are particularly recognized as developing asthma [3, 4, 5].

The triggers may vary among individuals and may include allergens, cold air, some medications, some household chemicals, respiratory infections like the common cold and the flu, exhaling outdoor air pollution and second-hand tobacco smoke, among others.

There are several asthma variants, including allergic asthma, nonallergic asthma, and exercise-induced asthma, among others. They react to different triggers – allergic asthma triggered by allergens, nonallergic asthma triggered by sneezing, and coughing, and exercise-induced is triggered by physical exertion [4, 6].

However, it is equally important that we realize that not everybody whose health becomes disrupted by the early life exposures and patterns described above (the aetiological factors or asthma triggers) will go on to develop the disease – and not every person with asthma will necessarily have the same triggers. Rather, it is a complex interaction between them [3, 5].

What are the symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma symptoms can vary from person to person, but several common signs can indicate this condition.

Coughing is a very common symptom of asthma, especially at night or in the morning, often disrupting sleep [7, 4, 8].

Another common symptom is a tight chest. This can be described as a feeling of pressure or squeezing in your chest that overwhelms your breathing.

A common symptom of asthma is breathlessness. It can range from slight, to more severe and sometimes worse during physical activity or at night.

Wheezing is another symptom of asthma, described as a whistling sound when you breathe out; again, this is even more obvious during an asthma attack [9, 10, 11, 12, 13].

In addition to these symptoms, some people also experience lethargy, pruritus, nervousness and irritability [12]. More specifically, in children, fatigue, darkened eyes, irritability, and difficulty to have feeds or sucking (infant) can represent the symptomatology of the disease [7].

These symptoms might worsen after an asthma attack. Signs of an asthma attack are severe coughing, shortness of breath to the point that you’re unable to eat, talk or sleep, shallow breathing, a fast pulse, tiredness or even confusion, intense fatigue, pale or blue lips or nails, and fainting [9, 7, 12, 13].

Can you develop Asthma as an adult?

You can develop asthma as an adult, a condition known as adult-onset asthma. Asthma and its symptoms can appear at any point, even if you have no history of asthma in your childhood [14].

Asthma brought on by exposure to allergens that cause lingering inflammation is another leading cause of adult-onset asthma. Mold and dust mites are among the potential allergens, and allergies kick off a chain reaction responsible for many people’s adult asthma [14].

Your job can play a role, too. The CDC estimates that adult asthma is caused by work in 17% of cases. Work-related asthma (also called occupational asthma) is more likely to be severe, with sudden exacerbations or more frequent symptoms, known as asthma flares or attacks [14].

Another risk factor for late-onset asthma is smoking. Current and ex-smokers have a much higher risk of developing asthma, compared with non-smokers. 2.

In addition, early-life wheezing is associated with a higher risk of adult asthma [15].

However, it’s worth noting that the diagnosis of adult asthma comes with a substantial degree of reassurance built in because it requires confirmation of symptoms and their control, asthma education and the development of treatment goals [16].

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Greta Daniskova

Greta Daniskova

Greta is a 2nd-year student currently pursuing her Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Westminster in London. Currently, in her second year of undergraduate studies, she exhibits a keen interest in the dynamic field of healthcare. With a focus on understanding the intricacies of human biology and disease mechanisms, Greta is driven by a desire to contribute to advancements in medical research and patient care.