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Asthma Classification

Overview

Asthma is a medical condition that causes breathing difficulties. These difficulties result from your airways narrowing and swelling. Asthma also leads to the production of mucus in your airways. Asthma causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing.

Asthma can be very mild and need little or no medical treatment. However, it can also be severe and life-threatening. Medical professionals rank asthma into four types from mild to severe. These types are determined by the frequency and severity of your asthma symptoms.

These types include:

  • mild intermittent asthma
  • mild persistent asthma
  • moderate persistent asthma
  • severe persistent asthma
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Mild intermittent asthma

Mild intermittent asthma

With mild intermittent asthma, the symptoms are mild. This classification means you’ll have symptoms up to two days per week or two nights per month. This asthma type will usually not hinder any of your activities and can include exercise-induced asthma.

Symptoms

  • wheezing or whistling when breathing
  • coughing
  • swollen airways
  • development of mucus in the airways

How it is treated?

You will usually only need a rescue inhaler to treat this mild form of asthma. You don’t typically need daily medication since your symptoms only occur occasionally. However, your medication needs will be assessed based on how severe your attacks are when they do occur. Your doctor may also prescribe allergy medications if your asthma is triggered by allergies.

If your asthma is exercise induced, your doctor may instruct you to use your rescue inhaler before exercise to prevent symptoms.

Who is more likely to have this type?

The largest number of people with asthma have mild asthma. Mild intermittent and mild persistent are the most common types of asthma. Mild asthma is more likely than other types to be untreated since the symptoms are so mild.

A number of factors increase your risk for any type of asthma. These include:

  • having a family history of asthma
  • smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • having allergies
  • being overweight
  • exposure to pollution or fumes
  • exposure to occupational chemicals
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Mild persistent asthma

Mild persistent asthma

If you have mild persistent asthma, your symptoms are still mild but occur more than twice per week. For this type classification, you don’t have symptoms more than once per day.

Symptoms

  • wheezing or whistling when breathing
  • coughing
  • swollen airways
  • development of mucus in the airways
  • chest tightness or pain

How is it treated?

At this asthma level your doctor may prescribe a low-dose inhaled corticosteroid medication. An inhaled corticosteroid is taken by quickly inhaling it. It’s usually taken daily. Your doctor may also prescribe a rescue inhaler to have in case your symptoms still occur from time to time. Your doctor may also prescribe allergy medications if your asthma is triggered by allergies.

For those over the age of 5, a round of oral corticosteroids may also be considered.

Who is more likely to have this type?

The factors that increase your risk of developing any type of asthma include:

  • having a family history of asthma
  • smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • having allergies
  • being overweight
  • exposure to pollution or fumes
  • exposure to occupational chemicals
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Moderate persistent asthma

Moderate persistent asthma

With moderate persistent asthma you’ll have symptoms once each day, or most days. You will also have symptoms at least one night each week.

Symptoms

  • wheezing or whistling when breathing
  • coughing
  • swollen airways
  • development of mucus in the airways
  • chest tightness or pain

How it is treated?

For moderate persistent asthma, your doctor will usually prescribe a slightly higher dose of inhaled corticosteroid that’s used for mild persistent asthma. A rescue inhaler will also be prescribed for any onset of symptoms. Your doctor may also prescribe allergy medications if your asthma is triggered by allergies.

Oral corticosteroids may also be added for people aged 5 and older.

Who is more likely to have this type?

The factors that increase your risk of developing any type of asthma include:

  • having a family history of asthma
  • smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • having allergies
  • being overweight
  • exposure to pollution or fumes
  • exposure to occupational chemicals
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Severe persistent asthma

Severe persistent asthma

If you have severe persistent asthma, you’ll have symptoms several times during the day. These symptoms will occur almost every day. You will also have symptoms many nights each week. Severe persistent asthma doesn’t respond well to medications even when taken regularly.

Symptoms

  • wheezing or whistling sound when breathing
  • coughing
  • swollen airways
  • development of mucus in the airways
  • chest tightness or pain

How is it treated?

If you have severe persistent asthma, your treatment will be more aggressive and may involve experimenting with different medication combinations and dosages. Your doctor will work to find the combination that gives you be most control over your symptoms.

The medications used will include:

  • inhaled corticosteroids — at a higher dose than with other asthma types
  • oral corticosteroids — at a higher dose than with other asthma types
  • rescue inhaler
  • medications that will help combat the cause or trigger

Who is more likely to have this type?

Severe persistent asthma can affect any age group. It can start as another type of asthma and become severe later. It can also start as severe, though in these cases you probably had a milder case of asthma that wasn’t previously diagnosed. Severe persistent asthma can be triggered by a respiratory illness like pneumonia. Hormonal changes may also cause an onset of severe asthma. It is the least common type of asthma.

Factors that increase your risk of developing any type of asthma include:

  • having a family history of asthma
  • smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • having allergies
  • being overweight
  • exposure to pollution or fumes
  • exposure to occupational chemicals
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Takeaway

The takeaway

With any type of asthma, educating yourself about your condition is important in managing your symptoms. Everyone with asthma should also have an asthma action plan. An asthma action plan is developed with your doctor and lists the steps that you need to take in case of an asthma attack. Since even mild asthma has the possibility of increasing in severity, you should follow the treatment plan your doctor gives you and have regular checkups.

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