Breathing Problems associated with Aging


Breathing Problems

As you age, the lungs lose their elasticity and become stiffer. The air passages narrow down and the chest muscles become weak. These hamper the smooth flow of air in and out of the lungs and it is then that breathing problems arise. There are several breathing problems that are associated with aging.

Types of breathing problems in seniors:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    i) chronic bronchitis
    ii) emphysema
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pulmonary thromboembolism
  • Aspiration



Asthma occurs when the air passages become inflamed causing the muscles surrounding the air passages to tighten and the lining of the airways to puff up. The passage for air becomes constricted and leads to difficulty in breathing, especially exhaling. Asthma is characterized by tightness in the chest and wheezing sounds. 10 % of the senior population over the age of 65 suffers from asthma.

Symptoms of asthma

The symptoms of asthma include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough with or without phlegm
  • Intercostal retractions (the skin between the ribs tighten while breathing)
  • Wheezing which is usually episodic and is worse during early morning or at night
  • Chest Pain
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Nasal flaring

Signs that will tell you that the asthma attack is serious and there is a need for instant medical care:

  • Face and lips turning blue
  • Extreme difficulty in breathing
  • Sweating
  • Quickening of pulse
  • Anxiety attack

Causes of asthma

There are various factors that cause asthma which include:

  • Allergens like dust mites,molds, pollens,pet dander and cockroaches
  • Physical exertion
  • Stress
  • Respiratory infections
  • Pollution
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Drug allergies
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like aspirin
  • Food

Treatment of asthma

Treatment for asthma can begin by finding out if an allergen is causing chronic asthma attacks and identifying it. Chest X-rays, lung function tests and blood tests are the common tests for asthma.

Medications for asthma can be:
Long term control medications aimed at preventing attacks –

  • Inhaled steroids like Azmacort, Vanceril
  • Cromolyn sodium or nedocromil sodium
  • Leukotriene inhibitors like Singulair and Accolate
  • Quick-relief medications for use during attack- Corticosteroids
  • Inhalers like Proventil, Xopenex and Ventolin.