Female? Over 65? Got Asthma or Allergies? Listen Up
by Eileen Censullo, MBA, RRT
Women over the age of 65 face numerous barriers to good health. An example is an increased risk for obesity, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. If you are in this age group, you may struggle against poverty, which limits eating the right food, making good choices, and getting preventative care. Some suggest that poverty can lead to higher rates of asthma.
If you have been diagnosed with asthma, it is imperative to ensure your asthma is under control. Asthma that is not under control can lead to many other health issues. Women over the age of 65 confirm that asthma does take the backseat to other conditions affecting them during this stage of their life. The incidence of asthma is not greater for this population, but the asthma death rate among women older than 65 is nearly four times higher than it is in other age groups.
We hope all women with asthma will work with their primary care doctors and decide to work with an allergist or pulmonologist to care for their asthma. These specialists can help you create personalized plans to help identify triggers, create a medication plan, and offer solutions to cope with asthma.
Women need to discuss menopause and whether they are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) with their doctors. The risk of developing asthma is not affected by menopause but women who have asthma already tend to have increased number of asthma attacks. An asthma action plan needs to be developed and in place in the event this occurs.
Asthma and allergies often go hand in hand. We know that asthma is a chronic condition that affects the trachea (windpipe) and lungs. Asthma can be triggered by allergies and this is called allergic asthma. Examples of allergens that can trigger asthma are pollen, dust, perfumes, smoke, and molds.
Some symptoms of asthma are frequent coughing (especially at night), shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness or pressure. Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms. Even for each person, an attack may differ. You may have different symptoms at different times. They can vary in severity from one asthma episode to the next one. Symptoms can be mild during one attack and more severe during another.
Mild asthma episodes are much more common. Usually the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours, especially if a clear asthma action plan has been developed with your physician.
Severe episodes are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms to help prevent severe episodes and keep asthma in control.
Symptoms of allergies are much more common and visible. Watery eyes, itchy eyes, sneezing, headache, runny nose are all symptoms of allergies that may or may cause an asthma attack. The treatment of allergies is usually with an antihistamine and/or nasal decongestants.
Asthma symptoms are treated with medications called bronchodilators and/or inhaled steroids. Both of the treatment plans need to be discussed with your physician and any questions answered to feel comfortable with the plan as outlined by your physician.
Allergies can be a nuisance and last for weeks or even months, but common allergies do not kill. Asthma attacks can lead to death, so it is important that triggers, symptoms, medication plan and knowing when to call your doctor for help are already understood. New medications are being developed and released to consumers every day, so do not be discouraged if one medication does not work or you do not like the side effects. A relationship with your doctor is key to continued good health and productive life. •
Eileen Censullo, MBA, RRT, is a Registered Respiratory Therapist. She serves as Vice President for Quality for the American Heart/Stroke Association and is also a member of the AARC.