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Respiratory Health and Prevention in Older Adults

According to the CDC, 1 in every 7 middle-aged and older adults suffer from some form of lung disease. As we age, our immune system ages with us. The scientific term is referred to as immunosenescence – which is the gradual decrease in immune function that comes with age. In your respiratory system specifically, muscles and other tissues that are near your airways may lose their elasticity over time. As we grow older, changes affect our lung tissue, muscles, and bones that can make it easier to get sick more often. Below are some critical respiratory diseases that occur in older adults, and points for how to keep your body healthier to fight off sicknesses.

Respiratory Diseases in Older Adults


Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation of the airways, chest pain, tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. If you have asthma, you may be aware of triggers for asthma attacks like infections, allergies, and pollution.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, senior citizens experiencing “mild asthma symptoms can have the same level of breathing difficulty as younger asthma patients experiencing a severe asthma episode.” This is due partly to the effect asthma has on older adults. Unlike younger patients, asthma symptoms persist as a debilitating disease in senior citizens.

Older adults should be especially careful of asthma episodes that require medical attention. Other diseases may make asthma worse or interfere with medications, such as one that alters your memory. Most importantly, you should be cautious and aware of ongoing symptoms, as asthma has the propensity for more severe symptoms as you age.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is common for elderly patients. For seniors who are diagnosed with COPD, airflow can be restricted. This disease is known to be the cause of chronic morbidity and mortality.

Age, gender, and past medical history are all risk factors for this illness, while noxious particles and cigarette smoke are the main sources. Primarily, COPD symptoms are coughing, sputum production, and dyspnea.

As this disease is often diagnosed in people over 40, older adults make up a majority of cases. There may be pre-existing lung damage and long-term exposures to certain risks due to age. As you get older, cells cannot repair at the same time, and recovery is delayed.

Lung Cancer

Almost half of all lung cancer patients are over 70 years of age. Older adults can receive treatment, and it is advised in order to have a strong prognosis and improved end-of-life care. However, some considerations should be taken into account when determining if the treatment will be successful.

  • Clinical studies may have been treated only on younger patients, and the side effects of lung cancer in senior citizens are not always researched.
  • As you age, you are at an increased risk for other conditions that are referred to as comorbidities. This could impact lung cancer treatment, as it may be less effective or less optimal for patients with multiple diseases.
  • Kidney and liver health are also important. Drug treatments can be impaired with kidney disease or liver failure, which happens often for the senior citizen population.

Along with this, similar cancers of the lung also target the elderly. Mesothelioma can be misdiagnosed as lung cancer because of shared symptoms that mostly occur in the respiratory system. The average age for patients diagnosed with this particular type of cancer is 74. Since there is a short life expectancy, older adults with mesothelioma do not have the same opportunities for recovery as lung cancer patients.

Tips to Stay Healthy

Get Regularly Screened

  • Annual screenings can reduce the likelihood of a late diagnosis.
  • Treatment can be optimized when cancers and diseases are caught early on.

Putting Your Health First

  • You should address minor respiratory illnesses which could make you more vulnerable to severe conditions.
  • Exercising regularly, eating a balanced and wholesome diet, washing your hands to protect yourself, and managing your overall health can prevent you from developing these respiratory diseases.
  • Lung cancer carcinogens, air pollution, risk factors, and other threats to the respiratory system are urgent to your physical wellbeing and should be prevented.
  • Cigarette smoking is a huge health determinant for asthma, COPD, and lung cancer.

Identifying the various respiratory issues can make you aware of your health and what to do in order to protect yourself. If you are at an age where your health is declining or these diseases are more threatening, you should know what to do. Remember that age is only a factor, but one that you should be mindful of if you have or may develop any of these conditions.

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