Drugs & Aging

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 385–397 | Cite as

Late Onset Asthma

Epidemiology, Diagnosis and Treatment
  • Barrett T. Kitch
  • Bruce D. Levy
  • Christopher H. Fanta
Review Article


Asthma is common among older persons, affecting approximately 4 to 8% of those above the age of 65 years. Despite its prevalence, late onset asthma may be misdiagnosed and inadequately treated, with important negative consequences for the patient’s health. The histopathology of late onset disease appears to be similar to that of asthma in general, with persistent airway inflammation a characteristic feature. It is less clear, however, that allergic exposure and sensitisation play the same role in the development of disease in adults as they do in children. Atopy is less common among those with late onset asthma, and the prevalence of elevated immunoglobulin E levels is lower among those aged over 55 years of age than younger patients. Occupational asthma is an aetiological consideration unique to adult onset disease, with important implications for treatment.

The differential diagnosis for cough, wheeze, and dyspnoea in the elderly is broad, and includes chronic obstructive bronchitis, bronchiectasis, congestive heart failure, lung cancer with endobronchial lesion and vocal cord dysfunction.

Keys to accurate diagnosis include a good history and physical examination, the demonstration of reversible airways obstruction on pulmonary function tests and a favorable response to treatment. Inhaled corticosteroid therapy is recommended for patients with persistent disease, and careful instruction in the use of metered-dose inhalers is particularly important for the elderly.


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Copyright information

© Adis International Limited 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barrett T. Kitch
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bruce D. Levy
    • 2
  • Christopher H. Fanta
    • 2
  1. 1.Channing Laboratory, Department of MedicineBrigham and Women’s HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Partners Asthma Center, Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals, Department of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care MedicineBrigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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