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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Adult-Onset Asthma


July 19, 2014

Women's Health
9103
Features
Adult-Onset Asthma
Adult-Onset Asthma
JHEAsthmaTypesAdult
When asthma first develops after age 20, women are much more likely to be affected than men are.
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2013-10-15

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Asthma usually begins in childhood. Some people with asthma have their symptoms resolve when they are in their teen years. In some cases asthma symptoms may return later or start later. When the very first symptoms of asthma appear after age 20, women are somewhat more likely to be affected than men are.

Adult-onset asthma can be triggered by allergies, dust, acid reflux, or by a respiratory infection. Most adults with new asthma complain of wheezing, a cough, or shortness of breath.

Asthma can cause similar symptoms to emphysema or bronchitis (from smoking). A less specific term for smoking-related lung disease is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or “COPD”. Whether you have asthma or COPD, smoking should be avoided. If you are having your first symptoms after age 50, asthma is unlikely to be your diagnosis. Heart disease, pulmonary vascular disease, COPD or infection are much more likely.

For any adult with symptoms of asthma, careful consideration of exposures at home and in the workplace is important. This is because inflammation in the lung can be caused by sensitivity to certain chemicals,  wood dust, molds and birds. This kind of lung disease, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, is different from asthma, but its symptoms can seem similar.

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