Take a Breather: 8 Fast Facts on Severe Asthma

You may know about asthma, and that 26 million people in the US have it. But, how much do you know about severe asthma – a type of asthma that that affects up to 10% of all asthma sufferers?

1. Severe asthma is NOT “really bad asthma” but actually has specific characteristics and causes. Severe asthma is a class of asthma that typically has different symptoms and may require therapy with high dose inhaled corticosteroids plus at least one additional controller medication and a rescue inhaler to help control symptoms.

2. Not only is severe asthma different from mild to moderate asthma, but there are different types of severe asthma, too. Severe asthma can have a number of underlying causes, including eosinophilic inflammation. Eosinophils are a type of white blood cell found throughout the body, including in the blood and lungs, and play a role in the immune system. For some people with asthma, eosinophils can contribute to the inflammation in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult and increases the risk of an exacerbation.

3. Severe asthma affects up to 10% of all asthma patients. Despite this relatively small percentage, severe asthma contributes disproportionately to the overall costs of asthma and costs may be 3 to 4 times higher for severe asthma patients compared with mild asthma patients. Severe asthma patients experience more symptoms than moderate or mild asthma patients, some of which may cause a limitation in performing daily activities and require time off of work. Other costs may come from medications, physician visits, emergency service and hospitalizations.

4. Severe asthma may develop slowly over time or quickly after the onset of asthma. For some, severe asthma develops based on genetics. For others, environmental irritants like dust, smoke, perfume or a disease such as the cold or flu may lead to the onset of severe asthma.

5. Severe asthma symptoms don’t go to sleep when patients do, leading to frequent awakening. Severe asthma symptoms may occur at any time, and patients may experience asthma attacks - or ‘exacerbations’ - during the night, causing sleep interruptions.

6. Severe asthma may be a repeat offender. Severe asthma patients may experience more frequent asthma attacks compared to mild or moderate asthma patients, ultimately increasing the use of rescue inhalers.

7. Severe asthma may change your life. Making lifestyle changes may help patients better manage their asthma. Patients can reduce exposure to allergens and irritants, warm up 10 minutes before exercising, wash bedding in hot water once a week to reduce dust mites, and get a flu shot to reduce risk of flu complications such as pneumonia.

8. Severe asthma takes some effort to get under control. Many patients may have to utilize a “trial and error” combination of treatments to control their symptoms. However, some patients are still left with uncontrolled severe asthma and reliant on rescue inhalers. Patients should always talk to their doctor about treatment options to find the best way to control their individual type of severe asthma.