Older adults are most likely to have asthma attacks and may need more regular check-ups, according to the first ever descriptive study of how the condition affects the UK adult population.
Asthma patients over the age of 55 years are the most likely age group in the UK adult population to experience “flaring-up” of their symptoms, said those behind the new research.
“This is an important study that points towards the particular needs of older asthma patients”
The researchers told delegates at the British Thoracic Society’s 2017 Winter Meeting in London today that this may have important implications for how these older patients are cared for and monitored.
The study, conducted by Dr Chloe Bloom from Imperial College London and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is believed to be a first in both scope and scale.
The population-based study included patients with all types of asthma, not just severe, because most people in the UK with asthma have a mild form of the condition, said the researchers. It also examined the medical records of over 424,000 patients, covering the period April 2007 to September 2015.
Overall, the researchers found that most people with asthma in the UK have a mild form of the condition and do not tend to experience exacerbations – or “flare ups”, as they described them.
But people over the age of 55 years were far less likely to have mild asthma than the younger cohort, and far more likely to experience symptom “flare-ups”, despite taking their treatment.
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The researchers believe the reason for their finding could be that older patients are more likely to have asthma alongside another lung condition – such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
This may affect their lungs, immune system and overall wellbeing, possibly contributing to increased attacks, they suggested.
Dr Bloom, a respiratory clinical academic, said: “This is a ground-breaking study, as previous research has largely focused on severe asthma, even though most people in UK with asthma have a mild form of the condition.
Older adults with asthma may need more regular check-ups
“What is new about our work is that it shows people over 55 years are less likely to have mild asthma, and more likely to experience symptom ‘flare-ups’. This has real implications for the way we treat asthma in this age group,” she said.
“We face an increasingly-ageing population in the UK yet, historically, older asthma patients have been treated in a similar way to younger ones,” she said. “Our research implies that, as older asthma patients are more likely to have potentially threatening attacks, some may need a different type of care.
“This could include, for example, older people at greater risk, due to their age and history, having more regular check-ups with their GP – the current standard is only one routine check-up each year,” said Dr Bloom.
She added: “More research is needed but this is an important study that points towards the particular needs of older asthma patients.”
The researchers used the BTS/SIGN British Guideline on the Management of Asthma “stepwise” approach to measure the risk of symptoms exacerbation within each patient studied.