Feature Article

Asthma can occur in the older person

Robert Adams, Richard Ruffin



Up to 35% of people aged over 55 years who have asthma remain undiagnosed. Identification and appropriate treatment can make a large difference to health outcomes in this patient group.

Key Points

  • Asthma does occur in older people and can present as a new diagnosis. Up to 35% of people aged over 55 years with asthma are undiagnosed.
  • It is important to remember that older people with asthma may attribute reduced exercise capacity to ageing. Consideration should be given to screening this age group for asthma.
  • Drug treatments for comorbidities are common in older patients and are relevant potential trigger factors for asthma.
  • Issues regarding inhalers influence the choice of medication in older patients. Potential problems include poor co-ordination or arthritis, and oropharyngeal side effects.
  • Reduced perception of bronchoconstriction is more common in older patients. Confirmation of lung function with objective testing is often helpful in such cases.
  • A written action plan is an essential part of management and may need to be given to a patient’s carer.
  • Important gains in quality of life can be achieved by treating asthma in older people appropriately.