People with asthma over the age of 55 years are the most likely age group in the UK adult population to experience ‘flare-ups’ of their symptoms according to new research presented at the British Thoracic Society (BTS) Winter Meeting in London.

The research, conducted by Dr Chloe Bloom from Imperial College London and colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is a first in both scope and scale.  

A population-based cohort study, it includes patients with all types of asthma, not just severe asthma – because the majority of people in the UK with asthma have a mild form of the condition. And it examined the medical records of over 424,000 patients (covering the period April 2007 - September 2015).

The researchers showed that:
- Most people with asthma in the UK have a mild form of the condition and do not tend to experience ‘flare-ups’.
- People with asthma 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.   

The researchers believe that the reasons underlying this finding could be that older patients are more likely to have asthma alongside another conditions – such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), for example. This may affect their lungs, immune system and overall wellbeing, possibly contributing to increased attacks.   

Dr Bloom, who is a member of the British Thoracic Society and Respiratory Clinical Academic at Imperial College London explained: “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.  

"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.

"We face an increasingly-ageing population in the UK yet, historically, older asthma patients have been treated in a similar way to younger ones.  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.  More research is needed but this is an important study that points towards the particular needs of older asthma patients.”

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