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Posted by Jean Zotter, JD

Jean is the Director of the Asthma Prevention and Control Program

Asthma affects people of all ages. Yet, while there is a lot of literature out there about asthma in children, there’s a huge lack of information available on asthma in older adults (those aged 65 and older). And with an overall lack of knowledge about asthma in this age group, older adults continue to be under-diagnosed and under-treated.

In fact, older adults in Massachusetts have the second highest asthma hospitalization rate and the highest asthma mortality rate of any age group in the state.Adult_man_asthma

Further, three out of four older adults with asthma in Massachusetts feel they do not have “good control” over their condition. With the rate of asthma in this population rising every year, it’s important to make sure that older adults have the knowledge and tools they need to safely control asthma.  Hospitalizations and deaths due to asthma are preventable. Everyone – young and old – can manage their asthma and live full, active lives!

 Ask your health care provider about an Asthma Action Plan. From daily routine management to the fast-paced moments of an asthma attack, a pre-prepared Asthma Action Plan is crucial. Still, only 25% of older Massachusetts adults with asthma reported ever having created a plan with their healthcare provider. If you or someone you love has asthma, speak with a doctor immediately to create a plan that covers all the bases of controlling asthma.

Know your warning signs. Everybody is unique, including the symptoms they experience during an asthma attack. Work with your health care provider to learn how to respond quickly and correctly to your warning signs.  These may include severe coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing, chest pain and tightening, anxiety, or sweats.

Improve your environment. A doctor can help you identify and reduce allergens and irritants in the environment that may trigger attacks. Common environmental triggers include pets, mice, mold, cleaning products, cockroaches, dust and dust mites. In addition, reducing or eliminating exposure to tobacco smoke is an important way to improve your asthma.

Look into medication and get vaccinated. Older adults may take medications that conflict with their asthma medications.  Work with your doctor to ensure you can manage all your medications and health conditions. In addition, adults with asthma are at high risk for complications from lung infections such as influenza and pneumonia. Getting vaccinated is an important step you can take to protect yourself.

Stay active. More than half of older adults with asthma report they had to cut down their usual activities in the past year. Asthma should not be a barrier to exercise! Work with your doctor to manage your asthma so you can be active. Try activities that allow you to control your own pace like bicycling, walking, jogging, or swimming. Talk to your doctor about which activities are right for you. Outdoor activity is best earlier in the mornings, as air pollution and allergen levels rise during the day. Don’t exercise on days with pollution warnings. To sign up for pollution alerts go to: http://www.enviroflash.info/signup.cfm.  

Get prepared to control your asthma – don’t let asthma control you! For more information on asthma in older adults in Massachusetts, visit http://www.mass.gov/dph/asthma.

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