Asthma is considered a chronic condition. However, its symptoms may be considered acute when they temporarily become more severe, like during an asthma attack.

Asthma is a respiratory condition marked by inflammation and narrowing of the airways. This can result in a range of recurring symptoms, including:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

Asthma is a chronic condition, meaning it’s a long-term condition that requires ongoing management. However, asthma exacerbation — also known as an asthma attack — can be acute. These periods of severe symptoms tend to come on suddenly and require quick treatment.

Here’s a closer look at acute asthma exacerbation, some common triggers for it, and tips for managing asthma.

Acute asthma exacerbation is a sudden and severe worsening of your asthma symptoms.

During acute asthma exacerbation, the airways in your lungs become inflamed and narrow, making breathing difficult. Other asthma symptoms — like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath — can also worsen.

You may also notice that your usual medications, like your inhaler, provide less relief during these moments.

Read more about acute asthma exacerbation.

Acute asthma exacerbation usually has a specific trigger, such as:

  • exposure to allergens, like pollen, pet dander, or mold
  • respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu
  • exposure to environmental irritants, like smoke, strong odors, or air pollution
  • not taking your prescribed asthma medications as directed
  • ignoring or not recognizing early symptoms of worsening asthma
  • strenuous exercise
  • emotional stress or anxiety

Asthma triggers can vary a lot from person to person. If you aren’t sure what yours are, consider keeping a symptom journal to track whether certain foods, activities, or environments tend to coincide with acute exacerbation of your symptoms.

Asthma is typically a lifelong condition, but your symptoms can go through cycles of improving and worsening. In some cases, the overall severity of your symptoms might decrease, though your airways will likely remain sensitive to certain triggers.

Keeping up with the treatment plan that your healthcare professional prescribed, even during periods of minimal symptoms, can help prevent acute exacerbation.

Like many other chronic conditions, asthma requires ongoing management. Depending on your symptoms and their severity, this will likely involve a combination of medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and monitoring.

Medical treatment

The medical treatment of asthma may include:

  • Bronchodilators: Short-acting bronchodilators, like albuterol, provide quick relief by relaxing the muscles around the airways, allowing them to open up and improve airflow. These are helpful during acute symptoms or before exercise.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators: You may need these regularly to keep your airways open over time. They’re often combined with inhaled corticosteroids in one inhaler (combination inhalers) to provide both bronchodilation and anti-inflammatory effects.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications help reduce airway inflammation. They’re useful as a preventive measure to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.
  • Leukotriene modifiers: These medications block the action of leukotrienes, which lead to inflammation and constriction of the airways.
  • Biologic therapies: For severe asthma, you may need biologic therapies to target specific immune responses involved in acute asthma exacerbation.

Lifestyle adjustments

  • Healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can support your overall health and improve asthma symptoms.
  • Regular exercise: Getting physical activity can help improve your overall fitness and lung function. Just be sure to talk with your care team before starting a new exercise regimen.
  • Stress management: Practicing stress reduction techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can be helpful if stress tends to trigger your asthma.
  • Trigger management: Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers — such as allergens, smoke, strong odors, cold air, or exercise — can help prevent asthma attacks.

Monitoring

  • Monitor peak flow: Using peak flow meters to monitor your lung function regularly can help you identify worsening symptoms earlier.
  • Regular doctors’ visits: It’s best to schedule regular follow-up appointments with a healthcare professional to assess your asthma control, adjust medications if necessary, and address any other concerns.

Asthma is a chronic condition that requires long-term management. However, you may experience acute asthma exacerbation, meaning a sudden worsening of symptoms.

For most people with asthma, the condition will never go away completely, but the symptoms can improve over time.