As you get older, it can be hard to tell whether your asthma is getting worse or you’re developing another breathing-related health condition. Often, even those that have never experienced asthma symptoms in the past may start to develop breathing related issues as they age.

We all know that if you have asthma, it’s important to stay on top of your lung function, regardless of your age. But if you’re an older adult, identifying breathing problems — and sharing that information with your doctor — is vital for your overall health.

This is because many asthma symptoms, like, shortness of breath, a cough, chest tightness, and fatigue are very much like other age-related health problems, like heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Here are a few tips to help you manage your asthma as you age.

  1. Use your medications as prescribed. Often when patients don’t have symptoms they discontinue their prescriptions. They don’t realize that the reason they aren’t having symptoms is because of the medication.
  2. Stay active. Often older adults are tempted to live sedentary lifestyles, because of their asthma or other conditions, like heart problems or arthritis. But in general, you can achieve more physical activity if you condition yourself for it. Also, your doctor can get a much better idea of your lung function and health status if he or she knows that you’re otherwise healthy and aren’t having trouble performing your daily activities. Your doctor and Exercise Physiologist can help you develop a plan that considers how well your lungs are working.
  3. Don’t ignore a stuffy nose. Nasal and sinus problems also affect breathing and can trigger symptoms. If you’re experiencing nasal congestion or sinus problems, like facial pressure or loss of the sense of smell it is important to check in with your doctor. Sleep apnea can also be a sign of breathing problems, and it can be particularly dangerous combined with asthma. If you are getting feedback that you are snoring, you should talk to your doctor.
  4. Do Not Smoke and Avoid Second Hand Smoke. Smoke may trigger asthma symptoms or an allergic reaction, which can bring on an asthma attack.
  5. Monitor your breathing and lung function. Older people with asthma should use a pulse ox meter (you can get this from your doctor) to check their lung capacity and function when they’re short of breath. Although, noticing that you’re out of breath after walking a distance or climbing stairs when you’ve never had problems before is enough to tell your doctor your asthma may not be completely under control.

Declining lung function isn’t necessarily a sign that you have another health problem or that your asthma is worsening. It may just mean that you need an adjustment in your medication dosage, or possibly a new treatment altogether.

It is imperative for older adults with asthma to recognize the symptoms of declining lung function. It is also important to stay active. If you’re active and find yourself short of breath or tired after an activity then it might be time to go in and get a checkup from your doctor.