As the baby boomer generation gets older, more and more women over 65 are outliving the men. While their overall life expectancy has increased, these women suffer from chronic conditions distinctly different from their male counterparts. One of the major health risks is asthma, which if not paid attention to can result in secondary conditions. Now a new study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), has identified the complications that women with asthma could face and ways to cope with them. 

"Allergists want older women to understand that getting their asthma under control can help them control a range of other adverse health conditions," said allergist Dr. Alan Baptist, lead study author and ACAAI member, in a statement. "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 controling their asthma as a priority."

While the occurrence of asthma in older women is not greater than in other age groups, the degree of symptoms is more severe and rate of death is higher. Women older than 65 are four times more likely to die due to asthma-related complications than others.

"There is no doubt that women over 65 suffer from asthma much more than men over 65," said allergist Dr. James Sublett, ACAAI president-elect. "We hope that women with asthma will be encouraged by their primary care doctor to work with an allergist. Allergists are experts at creating personalized action plans to help patients identify triggers, and offer solutions for coping with asthma."

Women with asthma may suffer from these health issues:

Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – Women in menopause are not predisposed to developing asthma. But when women with preexisting asthma hit menopause, they may be at a risk of increased attacks. Some studies have shown that postmenopausal women receiving HRT had an increased risk of asthma. Conversely, women who are already asthmatic might see improved respiratory symptoms and fewer attacks after HRT. Due to these considerations women should weigh the pros and cons of HRT.

Risk of adverse effects of inhalers – Long-term use of asthma inhalers have a bone-depleting effect. Due to this, postmenopausal women on inhalers are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to their existing low bone mineral density. Other effects of inhalers, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and adrenal suppression, are also more common in older women and should be evaluated. Getting a tutorial on how to use an inhaler can greatly benefit the elderly for whom the inhaler is the best method to treat their asthma.

Depression – Severe asthma has been known to cause depression in women over 65. The rates of depression can vary from 15 percent to 35 percent. As treatment of depression among asthma patients shows improved asthma outcomes, women should discuss screening and treatment for depression with their physicians.

Perception of Breathlessness – While asthma is a chronic, lifelong condition, proper long-term medical care and early intervention during an attack can control it. Since older people may not also be correct to judge whether they are breathing right or not, they should self-monitor with a peak flow meter during an asthma attack.

Besides these, other factors that may affect asthma management in older women are obesity, caring for others while neglecting their own health, and limited income or poverty, which can hamper their ability to follow recommended therapies.

Source: Baptist A. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. 2014.