Types of Asthma, Symptoms, and Causes

Written by Shayna Baltrotsky

NowRx Contributor 

exercise induced asthma attack

Have questions about the types of asthma, asthma symptoms, and their causes?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the basics of asthma and answer some frequently asked questions. In addition, we will provide an overview of each type of asthma and take a look at asthma step up therapy for controlling symptoms.

Let’s dive in.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that occurs when certain factors trigger a chain reaction that makes breathing difficult. Exposure to a trigger can cause irritation, swelling, and increased mucous production, which results in a narrowed airway.

The effects of asthma range from mild to severe and can be life-threatening if you experience an asthma attack. Mild symptoms can include wheezing and coughing, while moderate to severe symptoms can include chest pain and tightness.

Depending on the severity of your condition, a doctor may prescribe an inhaler, nebulizer, or oral medications.

Is asthma genetic?

Asthma is genetic. According to the CDC, if somebody in your immediate family has asthma you are more likely to have it. However, information from asthmatic family members can be helpful when identifying your triggers and designing an effective treatment plan.

That’s because family members may have a similar condition that can help your healthcare team determine which medications might work for you. As a result, you can form a safe and successful treatment that will help you on your way to breathing freely without worry.

Is Asthma a Disability?

The ADA usually classifies asthma as a disability. Since asthma can physically limit or impair your ability to breathe, eat, work, or go to school, the ADA typically considers it a disability. If your condition qualifies as a disability, the ADA can help to make reasonable accommodations.

ADA accommodations can improve your quality of life at work so you can go about your day unaffected by your asthma. Asthma accommodations may include:

  • Creating a fragrance-free work environment
  • Taking more frequent rest breaks
  • Air purification
  • Altering air temperature or humidity
  • Utilizing non-toxic cleaning supplies
  • Allowing employees to work from home

Can you develop asthma?

While children are more likely to develop asthma, you can develop asthma at any age. If asthma symptoms appear in adulthood, it’s considered adult-onset asthma.

Adult onset asthma often goes misdiagnosed and has a higher mortality rate than in children. Risk factors for developing adult-onset asthma include:

  • Changes in hormones, specifically in women who are pregnant or in menopause
  • Existing allergies
  • Environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, dust mites, and mold
  • Obesity
  • Certain respiratory conditions

Can asthma go away?

Asthma can go away, or at least the symptoms can. A child can be asymptomatic for years only for their condition to resurface in adulthood. There are a number of factors that can contribute to the return of symptoms including allergies, familial history, stress, cold weather, exercise, and cigarette smoke.

While it might not be possible to prevent asthma from returning, avoiding triggers can help keep asthma symptoms at bay. Adult onset asthma and children with severe asthma cases are typically constant and don’t see remission.

Types of asthma

There are various types of asthma. All types of asthma generally have different symptoms and triggers although there is overlap. Here is a brief overview of each.

Allergic Asthma

Allergens are the leading trigger in asthma patients and contribute to 90 percent of childhood asthma cases and 50% of adult cases. Allergic asthma symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, and a rash.

Allergic asthma occurs when an allergen enters the airway. Common allergens can include pet dander, cockroach or dust mite feces, mold spores, dusty rooms, smoke, scented products, and pollen. Identifying which triggers are causing a response can be key in controlling symptoms.

Non-Allergic Asthma

If you find asthma symptoms flaring up when the weather changes, or you feel stressed then you may have non allergic asthma. Non-allergic asthma is caused by triggers other than allergies. Triggers can include stress, exercise, drugs, and weather conditions and symptoms can include coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

This type of asthma typically occurs later in life and tends to be more severe.

Pediatric Asthma

Pediatric asthma, also referred to as childhood asthma usually begins before five. The severity of the condition as well as the symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Symptoms of asthma in children can include decreased energy during play, tight neck and chest muscles, a persistent cough or coughing spells, and rapid breathing.

Risk factors for pediatric asthma include family history, recurrent respiratory infections, exposure to secondhand smoke, and low birth weight.

Adult Onset Asthma

Adult onset asthma is when asthma symptoms appear and are diagnosed in people over the age of 20. As previously discussed, adult onset asthma is typically the result of allergies, lifestyle factors, and environmental factors.

Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain with their onset typically appearing suddenly.

Exercise Induced Asthma

If exercise or physical exertion brings about asthma symptoms, you may have exercise induced asthma. Symptoms of exercise induced asthma can include wheezing, coughing, fatigue, decreased performance, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

With exercise induced asthma, symptoms usually do not occur at the start of exercise. Instead, symptoms will be worse immediately after stopping exercise. Generally, these symptoms go away within 30 minutes to an hour. However, some individuals experience less severe symptoms hours later which can take up to days to resolve.

If you suffer from another type of asthma, you may also experience symptoms with exercise. As many as 90% of people with asthma will experience symptoms during exercise.

Occupational Asthma

If your symptoms are present while you’re on the job, you might have occupational asthma. Exposure to gases, chemicals, fumes, dust, mold, pollen, animal dander, and pollen can lead to occupational asthma symptoms.

Patients with occupational asthma typically complain about congestion, eye irritation, coughing, or a runny nose. It’s important to note that symptoms disappear when you leave the location.

Asthma COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS)

Asthma and COPD have overlapping symptoms that sometimes make them difficult to differentiate. This can lead to conditions that are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, which can cause symptoms to worsen over time. Therefore, it’s crucial to be tested for ACOS if you’ve been diagnosed with either lung condition.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collection of lung conditions that cause airway constriction and shortness of breath. Specific occupational hazards mentioned above and allergens such as pollen and pet dander can worsen COPD symptoms. Severe or poorly controlled asthma can also lead to COPD.

It’s important to note, most patients with asthma won’t develop COPD and vice versa. However, being tested for ACOS can help prevent a misdiagnosis so you can get the treatment you need. You’ll need to be treated for both lung conditions if you’re diagnosed with ACOS.

In addition to shortness of breath and wheezing found in asthma, patients with ACOS will experience increased fatigue, frequent coughing, and shortness of breath with routine activities.

Asthma Step Up Therapy

Asthma step up therapy is a treatment method that starts by prescribing low-dose medications and increasing them as needed. Your doctor will examine the severity and frequency of your condition to determine where to begin within the therapy program. Then, you’ll schedule regular visits with your doctor until the proper dosage has been established.

Steps one thru four include prescribing a group of anti-inflammatory drugs called corticosteroids. If the therapy progresses, your doctor may introduce long-acting beta-agonists (LABA) medications to improve symptom relief. LABA medications are taken through an inhaler or nebulizer.

Once your symptoms have stabilized, you and your doctor will establish an asthma management plan. The management plan will depend on your specific needs and the severity of your condition.

It can include ways to avoid triggers and discussing the frequency of follow-up visits to ensure you’re in the best of health. This way, you can get the most out of your treatment and prevent the condition from worsening.

Consult with your doctor before starting or stopping any new medication regimen or treatment.

Questions About Asthma?

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