Asthma can begin at any age. While some seniors may have first gotten asthma as a child, or young adult, others are just encountering it for the first time. Environmental factors play a large role in this primarily because of outdoor and indoor (tightly sealed, energy-efficient homes) pollution. Adults with asthma should discuss getting vaccinated against pneumonia and influenza because respiratory infections are a trigger for asthma.
Many people with asthma also suffer from other health conditions. If you see more than one physician to deal with other respiratory ailments such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema (were you a smoker before getting asthma?), heart problems, diabetes or high blood pressure, it is important that each doctor be aware of all the medications (prescription, over-the-counter and herbal) that you take. Many over-the-counter medications, as well as herbal remedies, can have a significant effect on heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. This could trigger an asthma flare-up or interact with your asthma medication and cause side effects. Also, as we age, our liver and kidney function slows down, changing the rate at which we metabolize medication. This could result in an increased level of a medication staying in the blood, leading to an overdose. It is best to stick to one pharmacy when filling your prescriptions so that potential drug interactions from prescriptions written by different doctors can be avoided.
Medical conditions such as arthritis and diabetes can affect one's hand strength. For someone with asthma, this can affect the ease of self-administering medication, such as an inhaler, or opening the top of a medicine bottle. Check with your pharmacist about "easy-open" bottle tops, especially designed for those with hand-strength problems. These tops, however, are not child-safe. So be careful about keeping them out of reach, especially when having young children in your home. The coordination necessary to use an inhaler properly is simplified by the use of a spacer. The inhaler attaches at one end of the chamber of the spacer, and has a mouthpiece at the other end. This allows you to press the inhaler, filling the chamber, then inhale the medication at your own pace. Check with your asthma physician about using a spacer.
A study reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found women who had been taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for 10 years or more had twice the likelihood of getting asthma than those not on HRT. Since HRT can be effective against osteoporosis and other diseases, be sure to discuss with your physician all the benefits, as well as the potential side effects, for you as an individual.
Surgery and anesthesia
When undergoing surgery, anesthesia is a challenge for anyone, but poses particular challenges for someone with asthma. First, the medications used during surgery can interact with the asthma medications already in your system. For this reason, it is crucial to let your surgeon and anesthesiologist know of your asthma and the medications you take. The medications can become a trigger, since they can affect the airways as well as your breathing and heart rate. Secondly, if you undergo general anesthesia, a breathing tube will be inserted into your airway. The presence of a breathing tube also can act as a trigger. Even if your asthma is mild, or under good control so that you rarely experience symptoms, be sure to tell all the professionals involved with your surgery that you have asthma. Since surgery may be necessary on an emergency basis, it is best to wear a medic-alert bracelet for your asthma. Having a card in your wallet or purse may not be sufficient, since they may not be checked following an emergency.
Surgery itself is a stress to the body. There is the stress involved prior to the surgery; knowing that there is a problem necessitating surgery; then, the waiting, anticipating the surgery; then the surgery itself; and finally the healing process. All of these circumstances create an impact on the body.
Before surgery, make sure you have a thorough assessment, including a detailed history and physical exam. It will be important to be sure there is no sign of infection. If you have been taking oral corticosteroid medications for several months, your physician may decide to put you on temporary additional corticosteroids before and after your surgery. This is because the oral medication you have been taking suppresses the steroid production of the adrenal glands. When your body is in a stressful situation, such as surgery, it responds in part by secreting more steroid hormones to deal with the stress. Since this action has been suppressed, you will need extra medication to get you through the stress of the surgery safely.
To prevent or minimize respiratory complications following surgery, you will be required to sit up and get out of bed as soon as safely possible. It is important to use an incentive spirometer to encourage deep breathing and the clearing of secretions. A respiratory therapist will work with you in the hospital to help with this process.
Stop smoking for at least one week (perhaps this will allow more permanent smoking cessation).
Get enough rest.
Drink plenty of fluids, since inhaled anesthesia promotes drying of the airways.
Avoid anyone with an infectious/contagious illness.
Be vigilant about washing your hands.
Practice whatever breathing and stress-reduction techniques you have learned.
Many retirees who have asthma decide to move to another location. This may be family-related, or they may feel that their allergies will improve in another climate. A place that we visit on vacation may offer significant relief of allergy problems. However, relocation means living in a new place for time periods far beyond that of a vacation. After a period of time, our bodies can develop allergies to substances in this new environment. While you may no longer suffer from the allergies of your previous home, you may well acquire new ones over time. If you suffer from allergies, and your finances allow, spending shorter periods of time in different locations may prevent the formation of new allergies that develop as we are exposed to a substance repeatedly.