Roughly 25 million people in the United States live with asthma, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

While some people with this condition may only have mild symptoms, others may experience severe, disabling symptoms that can greatly decrease their quality of life.

In fact, the American Lung Association suggests that upward of 10% of people with asthma have severe asthma.

But can someone’s asthma ever be severe enough to require a wheelchair? And are there other assistive or mobility devices that can help people with severe asthma?

Below, we’ll explore more about when to use mobility aids for asthma, as well as other resources for people living with severe asthma.

A wheelchair is a type of mobility aid that’s used to help transport someone when they are unable to walk on their own, whether because of disability, injury, or something else.

In people with asthma — which is classified as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — a wheelchair can help improve day-to-day function when symptoms become severe.

Most people with asthma experience mild to moderate symptoms, which can include:

  • coughing, especially after exercising and at night
  • trouble breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • wheezing or squeaky sound when breathing

In severe asthma, these symptoms often appear multiple times per week (or even daily) and can make it hard to function. Often, higher dose inhaled corticosteroids and longer-acting medications are needed to help control the symptoms.

But even then, sometimes these medications don’t work. The symptoms can make it difficult to function in daily life. For example, someone with severe asthma might have trouble deep cleaning their house, going up and down stairs, or doing other tasks that require a lot of exertion.

Because of this, mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs may help alleviate some of the exertions that can trigger these symptoms.

However, using a wheelchair outside a need can de-condition your body and make your asthma symptoms worse. If you’re concerned about your mobility and asthma, talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.

Not everyone with severe asthma will require, or even use, a mobility aid like a wheelchair.

Often, people with severe asthma have impairments to their exercise tolerance and not their mobility, so “wheelchairs and other mobility aids are not as commonly used at this time,” explains Ricardo Tan, MD, former president of the Los Angeles Society of Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology and a specialist at California Allergy & Asthma.

But if you’re someone whose symptoms are worsened by even the smallest amount of exertion, a wheelchair may be beneficial for helping with day-to-day activities and important tasks, says Tan.

Does this mean you’ll need to use a wheelchair every day? Not necessarily.

According to Tan, because wheelchairs also require exertion, it’s more likely for people with severe asthma to only use them when needed, “since moving the wheelchair itself will also require some amount of exertion,” he explains.

Really, it all comes down to how the device fits into your treatment plan.

For example, some people may choose to use a wheelchair to avoid exertion while figuring out an effective treatment plan, explains Tan. Others may choose to use assistive devices permanently to improve their daily quality of life.

When it comes to improving your mobility, there are a lot of choices on the market for assistive devices. However, there are two mobility aids — wheelchairs and walkers — that may help reduce the amount of exertion required to walk, travel, or do other tasks.

Wheelchairs

There are two primary types of wheelchairs: manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs.

  • Manual wheelchairs rely on manual input to move, meaning that you or someone else must move the wheelchair manually.
  • Power wheelchairs, or electric wheelchairs, are powered by electric motors. They can move on their own, without being manually pushed. Power scooters are sometimes considered a type of power wheelchair.

If you’re using a wheelchair for severe asthma symptoms that are triggered by exertion, a power wheelchair or scooter can help you get around without exerting yourself too much.

Walkers

Walkers can provide a wide range of mobility benefits, but they do require more exertion than wheelchairs. However, while some walkers simply aim to help reduce the risk of things like falls, others can help reduce walking exertion by offering wheels or a place to sit.

If you’re trying to reduce the amount of exertion during walking or other tasks, it can be helpful to find a walker with the following features:

  • lightweight
  • easy to use
  • offers additional support, like somewhere to sit or carry items

If you have Medicare and need a mobility aid to help you manage the symptoms of severe asthma, your Medicare Part B plan will cover the following durable medical equipment (DME):

  • canes
  • walkers
  • manual wheelchairs
  • power wheelchairs
  • scooters

However, although Medicare does cover each of these devices, you can only qualify for a wheelchair if you meet certain eligibility requirements.

It’s also important to know that Medicare does not cover the full cost of these items, even if they’re medically necessary. But as long as you’ve already covered your Part B deductible, you’ll only owe 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for your device.

If you have private insurance, your coverage of medical devices like wheelchairs may vary depending on your plan. Most private insurance companies, however, are legally required to cover both habilitative services and devices, which includes aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, and more.

Living with severe asthma

Living with severe asthma can sometimes be difficult, but support is available.

Whether you’re interested in joining local support groups or just looking for more information on living with the condition, here are some resources to consider checking out:

If you’re interested in learning more about finding community through asthma support groups, you can check out our full resource page here.

When you have severe asthma, even the smallest amount of exertion can trigger uncomfortable and possibly debilitating symptoms. And while there are treatment options that can help with these symptoms, sometimes it can take a while to find the right treatment plan.

If you feel that you might benefit from using a mobility device to help alleviate your asthma symptoms, consider reaching out to your doctor to learn more. Together, you can figure out a treatment plan that works best for you so you can function more easily in your daily life.