Age-of-asthma onset is often used to distinguish different adult asthma phenotypes; however, similarities and differences between early- and late-onset adult asthma have not been summarized to date. Of the 2921 records found, we identified 12 studies comparing early- and late-onset current asthma in adults. Age 12 was most commonly used to delineate the two age-of-onset phenotypes. Adults with early-onset current asthma were more likely to be atopic and had a higher frequency of asthma attacks, whereas adults with late-onset disease were more likely to be female, smokers and had greater levels of spirometrically defined fixed airflow obstruction. The prevalence of severe asthma was similar in both groups, and, in general, there were few phenotypic differences between severe asthmatics regardless of age of onset. Findings for several key characteristics, including lung function, were inconsistent between studies. Overall, there appears to be distinctive phenotypic differences with age of asthma onset. Although early-onset adult asthma is likely more attributable to atopy and potentially genetic factors, late-onset adult asthma appears to be more related to environmental risk factors, and so may be better targeted by preventive strategies. More detailed research is required to better characterize these phenotypes and to clarify potential clinical implications.
Keywords: adult asthma; age of onset; early-onset; late-onset; phenotypes.