Feature Archive

Do You Have Asthma?

Find out who's at risk.

WebMD Feature

June 19, 2000 -- Having had a daughter and an ex-husband with asthma, Marjorie Malloy of Los Angeles was well informed about the disease. She just never expected to contract it herself, especially well into adulthood.

When her symptoms started more than a dozen years ago, she attributed them to almost everything but asthma. "At first I thought it was bronchitis, because I was getting over a bad cold," says Malloy, a grandmother who won't tell her exact age. "I also considered it might be allergies. I was shocked when the doctor said it was asthma. I thought, 'Where did this come from at my age?' "

While many people tend to characterize asthma as a childhood disease, it can persist throughout life and, as in Malloy's case, can even develop later in life.

A Growing Problem

The number of people with asthma in the United States has more than doubled from 1980 to 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rising from 6.7 million to 17.3 million. And while the problem of childhood asthma is well publicized, the problem of adult asthma, including asthma in the elderly, is not as well known. Yet about 10% of those in the United States with asthma are age 65 and above, the CDC estimates.

The actual number, some experts believe, may be much higher. In a report published in the September 1999 issue of Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, researchers found that asthma is going undiagnosed and is undertreated in the elderly. They based the findings on a study of 2,527 seniors, aged 65 and older, including 4% who had a current diagnosis of asthma and another 4% who reported symptoms of asthma during the past year but had not been given a diagnosis of asthma. (To find out more about asthma in adults, see What Is Asthma in Adults?)