Obesity can negatively affect asthma symptoms and increase a person’s risk of developing asthma. Living with asthma can make it more challenging to lose weight.

Asthma is a disease of the lungs that causes breathlessness, chest tightness, wheezing, and nighttime or early morning coughing. Medications and avoiding triggers can help.

Obesity is a complex disease that involves large amounts of body fat. The condition puts people at higher risk of several comorbidities, including asthma.

This article explores how obesity and asthma can affect each other, whether obesity is a risk factor for asthma, and if asthma causes weight gain. It also discusses whether losing weight will help asthma, other asthma treatments, and seeking medical advice.

A person holding an asthma inhaler. Obesity may worsen asthma symptoms.Share on Pinterest
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According to the American Lung Association (ALA), obesity can affect asthma in two ways.

Firstly, obesity increases the risk that a person will develop asthma. The ALA notes that 11% of adults with obesity develop asthma compared with 9% of those without obesity having asthma.

People with obesity and asthma often experience exacerbated asthma symptoms and find it more difficult to manage their symptoms with medication.

Secondly, obesity can lead to complications that also affect asthma. For example, a person has a higher risk of developing depression, which can worsen asthma symptoms.

Another possible complication of obesity is obstructive sleep apnea, which can also exacerbate asthma symptoms.

According to a large 2023 cohort study, obesity is a well-known risk factor for asthma.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people with obesity have a higher prevalence of asthma than those in a moderate weight range, regardless of race.

The CDC also noted that females with obesity had a higher prevalence of asthma compared with males. The statistics show that males had no major difference in asthma prevalence across weight ranges.

Finally, the CDC found that asthma prevalence rates increased the most in people who are overweight. People in a moderate weight range or with obesity saw no major increase in asthma rates.

Learn more about adult-onset asthma.

Asthma can make exercise more difficult in children and adults. Exercise, along with diet, plays an important role in maintaining a moderate weight and weight loss.

The 2023 cohort study looked at how living with asthma affects the development of obesity in adults. It found that adults with asthma have a higher chance of developing obesity compared with those in a typical weight range.

A person with asthma can find ways to exercise safely. The ALA recommends taking the following steps, particularly if exercise is a trigger:

  • Warming up: A person should always warm up for 6–10 minutes before exercising.
  • Avoiding exercising when pollution is high: Pay attention to weather forecasts, and avoid outdoor exercise on days when allergens or pollution are high.
  • Trying different exercises: Switch up activities as needed until the person finds an activity that does not affect their symptoms.
  • Following medical advice: A person should use medication before exercising and discuss their exercise plans with a healthcare professional.

Learn more about exercise for asthma.

In addition, following a diet plan may help a person lose weight.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 provides tips and strategies for a healthy diet that can help with weight loss, preventing weight gain, or maintaining a moderate weight.

Learn more about how to eat a balanced diet.

Experts suggest that losing weight can help with asthma. Obesity can worsen symptoms and make asthma symptoms worse. It may also help reduce the chances of developing other comorbidities that can also negatively affect asthma.

Losing weight can also help improve someone’s overall health. The CDC notes that even a modest weight loss of 5–10% of a person’s total body weight can improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars.

Learn more about losing weight.

Asthma treatments focus on helping a person breathe better. Treatment cannot cure asthma, but it can improve quality of life.

Treatment often involves the use of both quick-relief medications and long-term medications. Quick relief medications, such as inhalers, help to provide rapid relief for an asthma attack.

Long-term medications help prevent attacks from happening. Long-term medications can include:

A person will also likely develop an action plan together with their healthcare professional. This plan can help a person identify triggers, make plans to avoid them, and provide action points on what to do if an attack occurs.

A person should speak with a healthcare professional if they develop breathing issues. They may also want to seek medical advice if they are finding it difficult to lose weight.

A healthcare professional can help by:

  • diagnosing and treating asthma
  • providing a plan for weight loss
  • updating medications if they are no longer working
  • providing exercise suggestions to help a person lose weight

If a person experiences additional or worsening asthma attacks, they should contact a healthcare professional. They can help adjust medications to reduce the severity of future attacks as well as help prevent them.

Obesity is a risk factor for asthma. It can cause symptoms to worsen directly and due to other comorbid conditions. Asthma can also make it challenging for a person to lose weight or maintain a moderate weight.

A person can help manage their weight through diet and exercise. People can talk with a doctor or other specialist if they need guidance on diet changes or safe ways to exercise.

Managing asthma with medications should help improve a person’s ability to breathe and allow them to engage in more exercise and activities.