Asthma and aging

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. These airways become inflamed and narrow, leading to symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. In this 5-minute video, Dr. Imran Satia, discusses what asthma is, how it is treated, and the progression and management of both early and late-onset asthma as we age.



Download a transcript of this video.


Over 3.8 million Canadians live with asthma. This includes people who have had asthma since childhood, (early-onset), and those who develop it in later life (late-onset or adult-onset). It is estimated that 7.6% of Canadians 65 years or older have the condition. 

Diagnosis of asthma in older adults can sometimes be difficult. People may not mention breathing problems to their healthcare provider because they think it may just be due to age, lack of fitness, being overweight, or some other health condition. However, untreated asthma is especially risky in older adults. People of any age should tell their doctor if they ever have shortness of breath, a whistling sound when they breathe, or a tight feeling in the chest.

Late-onset asthma can be more severe and is often misdiagnosed due to the similarity of symptoms to other respiratory conditions that are more common in older adults, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD, or heart disease. 

Late-onset asthma often has different triggers than early-onset, such as viruses and workplace irritants, and may be associated with other allergic conditions. It's generally considered to be more persistent and less responsive to treatment than early-onset asthma and may require additional treatment approaches, such as biological therapies ('biologics').

The aging process can introduce further complexity for both early- and late-onset asthma. The immune systems changes with age, potentially leading to a higher susceptibility to infections and, thus, more asthma attacks. Additionally, the medications used may require adjustments, as the body's response to certain drugs can evolve over time. 

For late-onset asthma, other medical conditions, such as heart disease, may influence both the treatment strategy and the overall management of asthma. Older adults are more likely to experience side effects or interactions with other medications they may be taking for various age-related health issues. This necessitates a careful review and adjustment of asthma management plans by healthcare providers. It's important that people living with asthma remain vigilant and stay in touch with their healthcare team to manage the condition effectively. With proper management and treatment, most people with asthma live healthy, and active lives. 

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Author Details


  1. Understanding asthma. Asthma Canada. Accessed May 13, 2024.
  2. Asthma Canada. Living Well with Asthma: A Guide for Asthma in Older Adults. PDFAsthma Canada; 2024. Accessed May 15, 2024.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.