Asthma is a chronic medical condition that causes breathing problems. In people with asthma, airways are constantly inflamed and become narrowed during attacks. Asthma also causes a buildup of mucus in the airways. All of these issues make breathing difficult.
Asthma is divided into four categories or stages. Each of the four stages describes frequency of symptoms, and how severe they are when they occur.
The condition can be very mild and require little or no medical treatment. It can also be severe and require daily treatment. Many cases of asthma, however, fall between those two ends.
People who have symptoms of asthma more than two days per week but not daily may have mild persistent asthma, one of the four stages. Here are 10 important facts about this type of asthma.
Asthma classifications are determined by how frequent your symptoms are, how much the symptoms interfere with your activities, and how often you have flare-ups that are higher risk (such as needing hospitalization or oral glucocorticosteroid therapy).
People with mild persistent asthma experience symptoms more than twice a week, but less than once per day.
At this stage, asthma is not yet a daily factor — but it is persistent. You may be taking medicine to prevent flare-ups, also called asthma attacks, but you’re not yet dealing with very frequent symptoms.
Symptoms of mild persistent asthma include:
- shortness of breath
- whistling when you breathe (wheezing)
- mucus buildup in the airways
- chest tightness, pain, or pressure
If you have a flare-up with mild persistent asthma, you may not be able to fulfill all of your normal daily activities.
For example, a flare-up may prevent you from taking the stairs or cleaning your house. You may have difficulty walking a normal distance.
You’ll likely tire more easily because your lungs aren’t getting as much oxygen as they need when you’re experiencing an asthma flare.
People with mild persistent asthma may have nighttime symptoms more than two times in a month. However, the nighttime symptoms don’t occur more than once per week.
Nighttime flare-ups are an important factor when your doctor is classifying the stage of asthma you have. How frequently they occur also says a lot about how well controlled your asthma is.
Doctors can classify asthma based on your lung function. This is determined by several breathing tests. Your doctor may request these tests before they diagnose your stage of asthma.
People with mild persistent asthma have lung function of over 80 percent of predicted normal during FEV1 breathing testing. That means your lungs have the ability to forcefully breathe out over 80 percent of volume in one second that’s predicted for lungs that aren’t affected by the disease.
The four asthma categories are:
- mild intermittent asthma
- mild persistent asthma
- moderate persistent asthma
- severe persistent asthma
Mild persistent asthma is second in the asthma classification of severity. Your asthma may jump from intermittent to persistent when you begin having symptoms of asthma more regularly.
Your asthma symptoms can worsen or get better, which means over time, your asthma may change grades.
If you begin having daily symptoms, you may be diagnosed with moderate persistent asthma. If the symptoms move the other direction, you may be downgraded to mild intermittent asthma.
Asthma classifications are somewhat arbitrary. They give your doctor a picture of how your asthma is affecting you at any one point in time.
The grade does not, however, immediately tell your doctor how well your asthma is controlled.
To know that, your doctor may grade your asthma over the course of several months at check-ups. The timeline of grades can help your doctor see if your symptoms are well controlled, or if you may need new treatments.
Don’t put too much stock in your asthma grade. Your classification can move up or down. As treatments are successful, you may experience fewer symptoms.
If the treatments aren’t effective, symptoms may become worse. Focus more on how treatments make you feel, not on what grade of asthma you have.
To classify your asthma, your doctor may use special breathing tests to measure how well your lungs are working.
These two tests are:
- Spirometry: This test uses a breathing machine (a spirometer) to measure how much air you can exhale and how quickly you can force the air out after you take a deep breath. The test uses these parameters to estimate how narrowed your small lung airways are.
- Peak flow: This test measures how fast you breathe air out. If the force is lower than a typical peak flow, it tells your doctor your lungs aren’t working properly. If you’ve had a previous peak flow test, it will tell your doctor if your asthma is getting better or worse.
Asthma is treated with several types of medications. What you use will depend on how severe your symptoms are and how frequently you experience them.
Standard treatments for asthma include:
- Quick-acting bronchodilators: These short-acting medicines work to reduce inflammation and open your airways so you can recover from symptoms quickly. Sometimes, inhalers are used proactively, such as before exercise, to prevent symptoms. Others are used as rescue medication when symptoms of an asthma flare-up occur.
- Long-term asthma control medications: As asthma worsens, your doctor may prescribe this type of medicine to help prevent symptoms. This will likely include inhaled corticosteroids, and could also include a long-acting bronchodilator.
- Allergy-relieving medicine: If your asthma symptoms are made worse by allergies, your doctor may prescribe allergy-relieving medication, such as an antihistamine, to prevent a reaction.
Asthma triggers are things that can prompt symptoms or an asthma flare-up when you’re exposed to them. Avoiding triggers or reducing your exposure to them can help prevent future flares.
Here are five ways to avoid asthma triggers:
- Allergen-proof your home: Dust mites can cause asthma flares, so try to eliminate as much dust where you can. Remove carpets for hard flooring. Use dust-resistant bedding, and wash curtains and linens regularly.
- Use an air conditioner: Open windows are great for natural air, but natural air is teeming with pollen, grasses, and humidity, which can all trigger asthma. Shut your window and use air conditioning to cut down on outdoor irritants.
- Stay healthy: People with the flu, pneumonia, or even a routine common cold may experience more asthma symptoms. Get vaccines and wash your hands during peak disease seasons.
- Protect your face: Cold air can trigger asthma symptoms when you breathe it in through your mouth or nose. Wear a scarf or jacket that can cover your face in frigid temps.
- Clean regularly: Prevent mold accumulation by regularly cleaning damp areas inside your house and removing mold traps, such as leaves or firewood, in your yard.
If asthma is well controlled and you follow your treatment plan, you may be able to postpone worsening symptoms.
However, asthma can get worse over time. That’s why it’s important to maintain regular check-ups with your doctor.
If you think your asthma symptoms are occurring more frequently before you’re scheduled for your next appointment, go ahead and make a new appointment. It’s important to stay on top of changes in asthma symptoms so you can control them.
Mild persistent asthma is one of four asthma classifications. People with mild persistent asthma experience symptoms more than twice per week but not as frequently as once per day.
At this stage, your doctor will likely prescribe some form of daily medication to help prevent symptoms and flares. You’ll also have a rescue medication, such as an albuterol inhaler, to help ease sudden symptoms.
If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of asthma or you believe your asthma symptoms are worsening, make an appointment to see your doctor. Asthma control is vital to preventing the condition from becoming worse.