SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- There are many people who experience asthma for the first time as an adult.
- Having a proper diagnosis with a doctor is essential.
- Inhaled medications will help you manage your asthma.
- Make sure to take medications regularly and as prescribed for good asthma control.
On this page
Many people think of asthma as a childhood illness, however, adults can develop asthma as well.
About one in 9 adults in Australia have asthma. Careful and proper diagnosis is important, as asthma symptoms can be confused with other conditions, such as heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (another respiratory condition).
In many cases, adults with asthma may have had asthma or similar symptoms as children and it may have persisted throughout their life. But, there are also many people who experience asthma for the first time as an adult.
Symptoms of asthma in adults
Asthma symptoms may differ between people, but common symptoms are:
- breathlessness or shortness of breath
- persistent cough, especially at night or early in the morning
- a feeling of tightness in the chest.
Asthma triggers in adults
People with asthma have airways that are more sensitive to some things than others. The things that set off or start symptoms are called triggers.
Adults with asthma are sensitive to the same kinds of triggers as younger people. But, every person with asthma has a different experience, and everyone may have a different trigger.
You may have more than one trigger which flares up your asthma symptoms.
Triggers may include:
- outdoor allergens such as pollen or mould spores
- cigarette smoke
- dust and dust mites
- fumes, air pollution and strong odours
- respiratory infections, such as a cough, cold, COVID-19 or the flu
- some medications such as beta-blockers (atenolol and metoprolol, amongst others) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- exercise and physical activity
- pet dander
- in certain circumstances, thunderstorms
- extreme emotions.
Asthma medication is important
Asthma can be well-controlled with the appropriate medication in almost all people.
To maintain and improve your asthma control both in the short and long term, it is important have a diagnosis and talk to your doctor about your triggers, how often you have asthma symptoms and the possibility of starting treatment.
When taking asthma medications it is important to continue to take your asthma medications regularly when your doctor prescribes them and go back to the doctor to discuss any symptoms and concerns if you have any ongoing symptoms that are not controlled
You can also discuss your symptoms and medications with your nurse or pharmacist.
The main types of medication are:
- Preventers – that slowly make the airways less sensitive to triggers by reducing swelling and mucus inside the airways. This medication is taken daily, either once or twice a day, depending on the medication. There are also combination preventer medications containing 2 or 3 different medications to help control your asthma. Preventers help to control asthma symptoms if taken regularly, as prescribed.
- Relievers – that act quickly to relieve symptoms by relaxing the tight muscles around the airways and opening them up so you can breathe more easily. Relievers are used during an asthma attack. Everyone with asthma should always have reliever medicine handy.
Remember, for most people with asthma, triggers and asthma symptoms are only a problem when asthma is not well-controlled with preventer medicine.
Spacers for asthma medication
It is recommended that all people with asthma, regardless of age, use a spacer when taking medication via a metered-dose inhaler (puffer).
Spacers help to improve how much asthma medication gets into your lungs and reduces side effects from medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about spacers and how they might help you manage your asthma and give you good asthma control.
Watch Asthma Australia videos which demonstrate how to use a puffer and spacer.
Good asthma control
If you have good asthma control:
- you are able to do all your usual activities
- you have no asthma symptoms during the night or on waking
- you have daytime symptoms no more than 2 days per week
- you need your reliever medication no more than 2 days per week.
If your asthma is affecting your day-to-day activities, or you are having symptoms or needing to use your reliever more often, see your doctor for a review of your asthma.
Asthma action plans
If you have asthma, make sure your doctor provides you with a personalised, written asthma action plan. This is a set of instructions written by your doctor that outlines:
- how to care for your asthma day-to-day, including what asthma medication to take
- how to tell if your asthma is getting worse
- what to do if your symptoms are getting worse
- what to do if you have an asthma attack
- the name of the person preparing the plan, and the date.
This plan should be reviewed every year, or when medications change, as your asthma will change over time.
Asthma and respiratory viruses
While adults with asthma are not more likely to get the flu, COVID-19 or colds than anyone else, a bout of any respiratory virus can be more serious for them, and longer lasting, even if asthma is mild or well-controlled.
You can’t really avoid them, but you can reduce your risk of catching viral infections:
- Wash your hands before you eat or touch your face, eyes or nose.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or elbow.
- Avoid crowded spaces, especially where people have colds.
- Where a mask, if you can't maintain physical distance.
- Have the flu vaccination every year.
- Ensure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination.
Adults with asthma should talk to their doctor about having yearly influenza vaccinations and an asthma action plan to manage their asthma.
Have a discussion with your doctor to ensure you are up to date with all your vaccinations for your age, based on the National Immunisation Program Schedule.
Cigarette smoke and asthma
Cigarette smoke is a common trigger for asthma symptoms. Many other respiratory illnesses are caused and made worse by smoking, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Managing symptoms will become easier for people with asthma if they are able to quit smoking or avoid being around people who are smoking.
Although quitting can be difficult, there are many effective treatment options available which you can discuss with your doctor or pharmacist.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Your GP (doctor)
- Your pharmacist
- NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 60 60 24 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- National Home Doctor Service – for after-hours home doctor visits (bulked billed) Tel. 13 SICK (13 74 25)
- Asthma Australia Tel. 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462)
- National Asthma Council Australia Tel. 1800 032 495
- Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia Tel. 1300 728 000