Although fatigue is not usually a symptom of asthma, having asthma can cause fatigue. Symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing and coughing, may make people feel more tired, or they may affect a person’s quality of sleep. Severe asthma or asthma attacks can also be very tiring for the body.
Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness or exhaustion. Many people with asthma report feeling fatigue, which includes sleepiness during waking hours and a lack of energy.
Experiencing breathing difficulties, a chronic cough, or asthma symptoms while trying to sleep may all contribute to fatigue.
In this article, we look at the link between fatigue and asthma, causes, treatment, and prevention, as well as when to contact a doctor.
Authors of the study conclude that many factors could be causing fatigue but that there may be a link between fatigue and breathing difficulties, poorly controlled asthma, and asthma-related quality of life.
People may feel fatigue when they have asthma symptoms, especially if they are experiencing them frequently. Nighttime asthma may lead to fatigue, and people may feel more tired after an asthma flare-up.
Research has also found a connection between sleep duration and worsening asthma. A 2020 study involving 1,389 adults looked at the link between sleep duration and asthma. All participants were over the age of 20 years and self-identified as having asthma.
The participants who slept for 5 hours or less had an increased rate of asthma attacks, coughing, and overnight hospitalizations, compared with those who slept for 6–8 hours.
The participants who slept for 9 or more hours experienced more limitations in their daily activity due to wheezing, compared with those who slept for 6–8 hours.
There are many possible causes of fatigue in people living with asthma.
People with more frequent asthma symptoms may experience greater levels of tiredness than those with infrequent or no symptoms.
Authors of a 2013 study following 2,529 children aged 11 years found that the children who had frequent symptoms of asthma reported daytime tiredness or sleepiness more than the children with infrequent or no asthma symptoms.
Fatigue may affect
If people have uncontrolled asthma, they may be experiencing daily symptoms of the condition, including:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
- a need to use quick-relief medication throughout the week or daily
Uncontrolled asthma may affect people at night and lead to fatigue from disturbed sleep. This may be due to the natural rhythms of the body and changes in hormones. Managing asthma may help reduce disturbances at nighttime.
Individuals may have severe asthma if treatment such as high-dose corticosteroids is not effective in reducing daily symptoms after 3–6 months of treatment.
Learn more about severe asthma here.
If people have asthma symptoms while they are trying to sleep, they may have uncontrolled asthma. Doctors also refer to this as nocturnal asthma.
Nocturnal asthma may occur due to changes in hormones and natural bodily rhythms.
Nocturnal asthma means people have symptoms such as breathing difficulties, coughing, or wheezing that interrupt sleep. Disturbed sleep may make people feel more tired or sleepy when they are awake.
Blood oxygen levels
Acute asthma can reduce oxygen levels in the blood. Lower oxygen levels may cause people to experience fatigue.
Learn more about low blood oxygen levels here.
A chronic cough can be tiring for the body. It may cause muscle strain or interrupted sleep. This in turn can lead to weakness and fatigue.
Learn more about why a person may be experiencing fatigue here.
An asthma flare-up, or asthma attack, can make people feel tired.
Symptoms of a flare-up include:
- chest pain or tightness
- rapid breathing
- difficulty taking a full or deep breath
- rattling sound in the chest
Learn about symptoms of different types of asthma and their causes here.
In the event of a severe flare-up, a person should seek emergency medical care. Symptoms of a severe flare-up include:
- rapid breathing with chest retractions, where the skin sucks in between or around the chest plate, rib bones, or both when a person inhales
- cyanosis, which involves color changes on the lips, around the eyes, or on the fingertips or nail beds — the color can appear gray or white on dark skin tones and blue on light skin tones
- rapid movement of the nostrils
- the ribs or stomach moving in and out deeply and quickly
- an expanded chest that does not deflate when a person exhales
If an infant with asthma experiences any of these symptoms or fails to respond to or recognize those close to them during a severe flare-up, parents or caregivers should contact emergency medical services immediately.
Managing and controlling asthma can help lessen symptoms, including tiredness.
People can work with a healthcare team to develop an individual treatment plan, which may include:
- Avoiding triggers: These may include pet dander, dust, or other allergens.
- Taking control medicines: These can help reduce inflammation and narrowing of the airways.
- Treating underlying conditions: Obesity, gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression, and anxiety can cause asthma flare-ups.
- Using quick-relief medication: This usually involves an inhaler for an asthma flare-up.
Treatment plans may include a high-dose inhaled corticosteroid, a second controller medicine, an oral corticosteroid, or all three.
If a person has followed this treatment plan for 3–6 months and still experiences daily disruptions due to the condition, including waking up due to asthma symptoms, a doctor may refer them to a pulmonologist or an allergist.
The specialist will refer a person for biomarker testing, which can help determine the severity of the inflammation. They may then prescribe new medication, such as biologics.
Home remedies may help manage asthma and the symptoms of the condition that may cause fatigue.
Examples of home remedies include:
- reaching or maintaining a moderate body weight, as obesity
may makeasthma more difficult to manage
- eating a heart-healthy diet, including adding plenty of fruit and vegetables to meals, and getting enough vitamin D
- engaging in physical activity regularly
- managing stress, such as through relaxation or breathing exercises
- avoiding smoking or secondhand smoke, including vaping
- developing healthy sleeping habits for good quality sleep
People may be able to prevent fatigue from asthma by taking these steps:
- following a personal treatment plan to control asthma
- practicing good sleep hygiene
- avoiding known asthma triggers where possible
- managing and reducing stress, which can trigger asthma
- getting yearly flu vaccine to help prevent getting flu
- trying to avoid pollution and poor quality air
- avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
If fatigue is affecting a person’s everyday life or well-being, they should seek guidance from a doctor. It is also advisable to contact a doctor if individuals are experiencing frequent, uncontrolled, or worsening asthma symptoms.
Symptoms that affect a person’s everyday life may include waking up due to asthma symptoms or experiencing disruptions daily due to the condition.
A doctor can assess symptoms and suggest changes to a treatment plan that may help alleviate symptoms and fatigue.
Many people with asthma report fatigue as a symptom of asthma, particularly those with frequent or severe symptoms.
Nighttime asthma, a chronic cough, and lower blood oxygen levels can all lead to people feeling tired.
Managing asthma through a treatment plan, including medications and healthy lifestyle choices, may help manage symptoms and reduce fatigue.