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Asthma most often develops during childhood. However, it can develop at any age, including the teenage years.

Asthma causes chronic inflammation of the airways and tightening of airway muscles.

In this article, we will discuss when people can develop asthma, its symptoms across ages, its diagnosis, long-term treatment, and prevention.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

People can develop asthma at any age. Although there is no cure, suitable treatment and prevention strategies can help manage asthma in children, teenagers, and adults.

Infants and young children

Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. Children with a family history of asthma and those more prone to developing allergies have a higher risk of developing asthma.

Infants and young children can develop asthma during the first few years of their lives because their airways are smaller than adults and teenagers. Viral respiratory infections are the most common triggers of asthma exacerbations among young children and infants.

Read more about childhood asthma.

Teenagers

Approximately 5.1 million children under 18 years have asthma in the United States. About 75% of children outgrow asthma as an adult, though it can return.

Up to 12% of adolescents worldwide experience chronic disease, and asthma affects this age group. Despite research considering asthma a childhood disease with symptom flare-ups reducing with age, adolescents can still develop asthma.

Among younger people, males have a higher risk of developing asthma till puberty. However, females have a higher risk of developing asthma after puberty.

Adults

Adult-onset asthma appears during the adult years. Older adults can also have asthma: Around 2 million people aged 65 and older in the United States have asthma.

Find out more about adult-onset asthma.

Factors that can increase the risk of developing asthma include:

  • cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke
  • pollution
  • obesity
  • exposure to certain substances in a workplace environment
  • allergens, such as:
  • respiratory infections

Overall, asthma symptoms are similar across ages. General symptoms include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing with mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

However, there are certain differences in the triggers between adolescence and adulthood.

Learn more about symptoms across different age groups.

Teenagers

Females may notice more asthma symptoms than males around puberty due to certain increased hormones.

Other hormonal changes can trigger asthma symptoms. These changes include:

2021 research suggests an under-recognition of asthma severity occurs more frequently in adolescents.

Researchers discuss some characteristics among teenagers with asthma, such as:

  • normalizing and accepting their chronic asthma symptoms over time
  • adopting strategies such as minimizing physical activity
  • under-reporting asthma symptoms or reliever medication use to needing further controller therapy

A parent or caregiver can ensure a teenager receives a suitable diagnosis and treatment for their asthma.

Adults

Adults with asthma also experience a greater and faster decline in lung function than younger people with asthma.

Approximately two-thirds of adults report having at least one other condition alongside their asthma.

Possible conditions that can accompany adult asthma include:

An accurate diagnosis of asthma is important to determine its severity and a suitable treatment approach.

People experiencing initial symptoms can consult a doctor who can recommend diagnostic tests, including:

  • Personal and medical history: Doctors will ask questions about a person’s:
    • symptoms
    • family history
    • ongoing medications
    • previous medical conditions
    • lifestyle factors
  • Physical examination: Doctors then conduct physical examinations to detect any signs of asthma or other related conditions of the following:
    • eyes
    • nose
    • throat
    • ear
    • skin
    • lungs
    • sinuses
  • Lung function tests: These tests help determine how well a person exhales and inhales air from the lungs. They help confirm asthma by measuring breathing. Some common lung function tests include:
  • Blood tests: These tests help determine the levels of immunoglobulin E and eosinophils in the blood. Higher levels can indicate the presence of asthma.
  • Allergy test: In many cases, allergies can lead to the development or worsening of asthma. However, these tests do not confirm the presence of asthma.

Although there is currently no cure for asthma, treatment options are available to manage and relieve symptoms.

Doctors recommend different treatment plans for people according to their needs.

Long-term treatment of asthma includes medications that can reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms over time.

Common long-term medications include the following:

  • Corticosteroids help treat mild to severe asthma cases in children and adults. They can reduce asthma-related inflammation as well as prevent lung damage.
  • Bronchodilators can help relax the airway muscles that tighten due to an asthma attack. This allows air to pass through them and makes breathing easier.
  • Mast cell stabilizers help prevent the degranulation of mast cells and control inflammation. These medications are only effective for people with mild or moderate asthma.
  • Leukotriene modifiers help reduce and prevent airway constriction and inflammation. They can also make the airways less sensitive to asthma triggers and can treat mild to severe asthma.

Learn more about managing asthma.

Preventing flares

Asthma flares can occur from the worsening of symptoms. They can last for a few minutes to a few hours, and sometimes even days.

Prevention of flares can take place by:

  • identifying and avoiding asthma triggers
  • taking asthma medications as prescribed
  • creating an asthma action plan with a doctor
  • recognizing initial symptoms to avoid possible complications developing
  • getting annual vaccinations, such as for influenza

Asthma can appear at any age. While it tends to be more common in childhood, asthma can also develop during adolescence or adulthood.

Certain factors will determine whether symptoms worsen and their severity if they do. For example, symptoms may flare during hormonal changes, such as menstruation, or alongside other related conditions.

Although no cure exists, people can follow an accurate and effective management plan to manage their symptoms and prevent flares.