The majority of the more than 25 million Americans living with asthma enjoy active, healthy lives. But for others, despite using high-dose asthma medicines and avoiding triggers, severe symptoms are a part of daily life.
If this describes your experience, it could be severe asthma, a type of asthma that affects approximately 5-10% of those with the condition. Severe asthma is dangerous, increasing the risk of death, illness and depression, and limiting one’s ability to work or go to school.
Even with severe asthma, control is attainable, according to the American Lung Association, which offers the following three questions and answers to help you determine your next steps.
1. How do I know if my asthma symptoms are under control? With severe asthma, people tend to have three or more symptoms (sometimes daily), such as shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing or wheezing, and most likely wake up nightly due to their symptoms.
Also, if you’ve gone to the emergency department or were hospitalized due to asthma at least two times during the past year and were given oral corticosteroids to keep asthma under control, your asthma is most likely not well controlled. Despite all your efforts to take your medications as prescribed, your symptoms continue. If this sounds like you, you may have severe asthma.
2. How do I know if I have severe asthma? There are several types of asthma and knowing which kind you have can help in your treatment plan and management of symptoms.
Testing for severe asthma may involve taking a blood sample, analyzing your lung mucus or taking a breath droplet test. Such tests are looking for biomarkers, or identifiers that cause Type 2 inflammation, or other factors that cause non-Type 2 inflammation, resulting in your daily uncontrolled symptoms.
Common types of severe asthma include allergic, eosinophilic (also known as e-asthma) and noneosinophilic asthma. If your specialist confirms a diagnosis of severe asthma and determines your specific type, he or she will develop a personalized treatment plan with you.
3. Which severe asthma treatments are available? Treatment options may include:
• Biologics: medicines targeting biomarkers causing Type 2 inflammation.
• Bronchial thermoplasty: a minor lung procedure that applies heat to the airways to decrease overgrowth (remodeling) of the smooth muscles and improve symptoms.
• Antibiotic medicines or oral corticosteroids: medicines targeting non-Type 2 inflammation caused when there are unknown biomarkers, or as a result of other health conditions. Note: If possible, it is important to discuss with your doctor how best to reduce the need for oral corticosteroids.
Once you have a better understanding of your asthma, you may need to see a specialist who can better explain which type of asthma you have and which treatment options are available. Make an appointment to visit your asthma doctor to start the discussion.