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Difficult-to-Control Asthma and Severe Asthma

When asthma symptoms persist, a person may have difficult-to-control asthma or severe asthma. Learn what these terms mean.

Difficult-to-Control Asthma and Severe Asthma

Millions of people worldwide have asthma, a respiratory condition where the airways become narrow and constricted. This swelling can be exacerbated by allergens, irritants in the air, illness (like having a cold or the flu), stress, weather, medications and physical activity. Exacerbations are often referred to as “asthma attacks.”

Asthma is a chronic condition, meaning there is no cure. Treatment for asthma focuses on monitoring and control. This includes preventing asthma attacks, addressing asthma attacks when they occur, reducing the impact that asthma has on everyday life and activities, and limiting the long-term impact that asthma has on lung function.

For some patients, asthma symptoms persist even when following a treatment plan. These patients may have difficult-to-control asthma or a type of difficult-to-control asthma called severe asthma.

Difficult-to-control asthma
Because asthma varies significantly from person to person, some patients will need to work harder than others to achieve asthma control. A person with difficult-to-control asthma will need to be diligent about taking their medicine on a consistent schedule, using proper technique with their inhalers, avoiding triggers and allergens that exacerbate asthma symptoms, and making lifestyle changes that can improve asthma control (such as losing weight or quitting smoking, if those apply). Treatment for difficult-to-control asthma involves identifying and addressing any weak points in a treatment plan.

If you are having difficulty getting your asthma under control, it is important that you and your healthcare provider identify other health conditions that could be causing your symptoms or making your asthma more difficult to control, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), vocal cord dysfunction, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or obesity. Working with your healthcare provider to get a full picture of your overall health is important to treating asthma.

Severe asthma
Severe asthma is a subcategory of difficult-to-control asthma. Patients with severe asthma require a more aggressive approach to treatment, such as control medications, high-dose corticosteroids, biologic therapies (also called immunomodulators) and in some cases, surgery. Some are able to get symptoms under control with aggressive treatment, while others are not able to achieve well-controlled asthma, even with aggressive treatment.

If your asthma symptoms persist despite following a treatment plan, it is important that you continue to work with your healthcare provider to find a treatment approach that works. While asthma is a relatively common condition, it should not be taken lightly. Asthma that is not uncontrolled and/or severe can have a major impact on a person’s quality of life and cause serious complications. In a given year, asthma is the main cause for more than 1.7 million emergency room visits and results in over 3,000 deaths.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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