Updated 10 August 2014

Older women with asthma more likely to die

The asthma death rate among women age 65 years and older is nearly four times higher than in other groups of people, although their asthma rates aren't higher.


Although older women with asthma often have worse health outcomes, they may not make asthma care a priority, according to a new study.

"There is no doubt that women over 65 suffer from asthma much more than men over 65," concluded Dr. James Sublett, an allergist and president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), in an organisation news release.

Other adverse health conditions

In fact, the asthma death rate among women age 65 years and older is nearly four times higher than in other groups of people, the study's authors noted. And that's despite the fact that older women don't have higher rates of asthma than any other group.

"Allergists want older women to understand that getting their asthma under control can help them control a range of other adverse health conditions," the study's lead author and allergist, Dr. Alan Baptist, explained in an ACAAI news release.

Read: Your 10 point action plan to manage your asthma

"Recent studies have shown that older women with multiple health problems admit that asthma takes a backseat to other conditions. We want them, with the help of their allergists, to view controlling their asthma as a priority," Baptist said.

Asthma and menopause

For older women who had asthma earlier in life, one contributing factor may be changes associated with menopause, the study's authors pointed out. Menopause may increase the frequency of asthma attacks for women with asthma, the researchers said.

Read: More menopausal women hospitalised for asthma

Although women with asthma who begin hormone replacement therapy may experience an improvement in their asthma symptoms, previous studies have also shown that older women who do not have asthma who are on hormone replacement therapy may be at greater risk for the condition. The ACAAI researchers concluded that older women should consider all the possible risks and benefits of this form of treatment

Older women with asthma should also consider their risk for osteoporosis. Older women who use inhalers (inhaled corticosteroids) to treat asthma have much lower bone mineral density, increasing their risk for osteoporosis, the study authors explained. Inhalers are also linked to other health issues more common among older women, such as glaucoma, cataracts and adrenal suppression.

Not only should older women be informed about how to use an inhaler correctly, they should be evaluated for these complications, the researchers advised.

Asthma and depression

Meanwhile, research has shown that rates of depression range from 15 percent to 35 percent among older women. Treatment for depression among people with asthma improves asthma outcomes. The researchers from the ACAAI concluded that women with asthma should be screened by their doctor and, if necessary, treated for depression.

Prevention is key to controlling asthma, the researchers added. Older women, however, may have less awareness of how well they are breathing. Moreover, it may be more difficult for these women to recover from feelings of breathlessness. In these cases, a peak flow meter can help with self-monitoring.

Read: What are the causes of asthma?

Other factors affecting the overall health of older women and their asthma control include:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Being a caregiver and not prioritising their own health needs
  • Having a limited income or living in poverty

Read more:

Asthma drug may be the solution to chronic hives
Children of obese mothers more likely to get asthma
Asthma drugs may suppress child growth

Image: Elderly woman doing inhalation from Shutterstock

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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