Most of the time, running out of breath is a sign that we’re pushing our cardio fitness. But if you find yourself feeling short of breath often or when you’re not doing any activity at all, it could be a sign of moderate to severe asthma. Around 3.8 million Canadians are living with asthma. Whether you’re one of them, think you may be one of them, or just want to know what to look for, we have the essentials you need to know.
Table of Contents
2. Symptoms of Moderate to Severe Asthma
3. What Causes Moderate to Severe Asthma?
4. Potential Complications of Moderate to Severe Asthma
5. Treatments for Moderate to Severe Asthma
6. Health Tips to Lower Your Risk of Asthma and Asthma Complications
7. What to Do If You Believe You Might Have Moderate to Severe Asthma
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that makes your airways swell and become more narrow, making it more difficult to breathe. Your body might also produce extra mucus in your airways, contributing to your limited breathing. People with asthma don’t necessarily have narrower airways all the time, but it happens frequently.
How Is Moderate to Severe Asthma Defined?
Every person’s asthma is different in several ways—for example, the triggers that cause it and how severe it is. Your doctor will determine how severe your asthma is based on your symptoms. There are four classifications of asthma as far as severity is concerned:
- Intermittent asthma – you only have symptoms every so often, no more than twice per week
- Mild persistent asthma – you have symptoms 3-6 times per week during the day and nighttime symptoms 3-4 times per month, and your functional tests show minimal effect from your asthma
- Moderate persistent asthma – you have symptoms daily and nighttime symptoms more than 5 times per month, and your functional tests show a moderate drop in your lung function
- Severe persistent asthma – you have symptoms continuously or most of the time during the day and frequently at night, and your functional tests show that your breathing is significantly limited by your asthma
Types of Asthma
Along with the severity levels, asthma is also classified based on the type of asthma you have. These types of asthma include:
- Exercise-induced asthma, which only causes asthma symptoms when you are exercising
- Allergy-induced asthma or allergic asthma, in which your symptoms are triggered by allergens like dust, pollen, mold spores, or pet dander
- Occupational asthma, in which your allergy symptoms are triggered by exposure to certain workplace chemicals or materials
Symptoms of Moderate to Severe Asthma
When it comes to asthma, each person has symptoms at different levels, and some have them more often than others, but the symptoms are fairly consistent from person to person. They include:
- Shortness of breath, feeling as if you can’t take in enough air or can’t get air out of your lungs
- Frequent coughing or wheezing when you breathe
- Chest tightness or pain
- Shortness of breath or coughing that is worse when the air is cold and dry
Common Triggers for Asthma Symptoms
Asthma symptoms aren’t constantly present. They usually flare up in response to a trigger in your body or your environment. Each person’s triggers can vary, but the most common ones include:
- Airborne allergens like pollen
- Air pollutants and airborne irritants
- Respiratory infections, like the common cold and COVID-19
- Cold, dry air
- High stress and intense emotions
- Certain medications like beta blockers, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen), and aspirin
- Acid reflux, sometimes called heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
What Causes Moderate to Severe Asthma?
Asthma is one of many health conditions that doesn’t have a specific known cause. It seems to run in families, and it’s most likely caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Asthma most often affects people who have a family history of asthma and who:
- Smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke
- Are overweight
- Have another allergic condition
- Are exposed to airborne irritants like exhaust fumes, hairdressing chemicals, manufacturing chemicals, or farming chemicals
Potential Complications of Moderate to Severe Asthma
Asthma is a fairly common condition, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. There are several critical complications that can come from asthma.
Life-Threatening Asthma Attacks
An asthma attack is a severe reaction to a trigger, causing your airways to swell and narrow severely. In some cases, your airways can close entirely so your body doesn’t get the oxygen it needs. This is a life-threatening emergency and requires emergency medical care.
Permanently Narrower Airways
Over time, asthma can cause your airways to permanently and progressively narrow. This makes it harder to breathe on a daily basis and can also make asthma attacks worse because your airways are already smaller than they should be.
Asthma can limit your lifestyle because you need to avoid or minimize your exposure to triggers. You might not be able to do strenuous exercise and reap the benefits for your health. Asthma can also limit your career options because you can’t be around certain chemicals or materials.
Treatments for Moderate to Severe Asthma
If you have moderate to severe asthma, what are the next steps? While there is no cure for asthma, there are medications that can manage your symptoms effectively so they have less of an impact on your life.
Medications are typically the cornerstone of your asthma treatment. Your doctor will likely use a combination of prescription medications to keep your symptoms under control and respond to sudden symptoms as needed. These medications may include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids to reduce swelling and inflammation in the airways directly
- Oral medications called leukotriene modifiers, which reduce and control asthma symptoms in the long term
- Combination inhalers, which combine a long-term asthma control medication as well as a corticosteroid
- Oral muscle relaxing medication that relaxes the muscles around the airways
- Quick-relief medications that don’t control asthma long-term but reduce symptoms during asthma attacks or flare-ups
Along with managing your symptoms through medication, your doctor will also advise you to avoid triggers that spark your asthma symptoms. Each person is more sensitive to certain triggers than others, so it may take time to figure out what your top triggers are and find strategies to reduce your exposure.
Allergy Medications or Immunotherapy
Asthma symptoms are often triggered by an overreaction to an allergen, so reducing your sensitivity to allergens can help your asthma. Doctors may do this through medications called biologics, which modify your immune response or through immunotherapy: a series of injections that gradually desensitize you to the allergen.
Health Tips to Lower Your Risk of Asthma and Asthma Complications
What can you do to lower the impact of asthma on your life? Along with following your doctor’s care plan and taking your medications, follow these key tips.
Keep Up with Routine Vaccinations
Asthma increases your risk of serious illness from common infections like the flu and COVID-19. Getting vaccinated against these illnesses can lower your risk of complications.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight puts more strain on your cardiovascular system in a way that can make asthma symptoms worse. Take steps to maintain or reach a healthy weight at which your asthma symptoms are at their lowest.
Track Your Quick-Relief Inhaler Use
Keep a log of how often you need your quick-relief inhaler to control an asthma flare-up. This is a helpful metric to show you if your symptoms are managed effectively or if they’re getting worse so you can talk to your doctor.
What to Do If You Believe You Might Have Moderate to Severe Asthma
If you or a loved one may have moderate to severe asthma, or if you want to better control your asthma, we’re here to help. Contact SRx, and we’ll put you in touch with a care provider who can give you personalized, attentive care.