Asthma is a chronic condition, which means that there is no cure for it. However, people with asthma can use treatments and lifestyle measures to manage the condition and lead a normal, fulfilling life.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.7% of people in the United States, which equates to 24,753,379 people, have asthma. In industrialized countries around the world, about 10% of the population tends to have asthma.
Keep reading to learn more about this chronic condition, why there is no cure, and how to treat and manage it.
Asthma is not curable, but that does not mean that people with asthma will experience regular asthma attacks. Much of the time, people with asthma can control their symptoms by:
- working with healthcare professionals to develop and follow an asthma treatment plan
- identifying and avoiding triggers for asthma attacks
- following a healthful diet and exercising regularly
- tracking symptoms and activities
- preparing for and working through flare-ups
One of the most important things that people with asthma can do to protect their health is to educate themselves about the condition. The more people learn about asthma and their particular triggers and symptoms, the better they can manage it.
Individuals who are able to recognize when their condition is getting worse can take their quick-relief medication at the best possible time.
Researchers have found that a combination of traditional asthma education practices and an internet-based program produces the biggest gain in people’s knowledge of asthma.
People with asthma need to have a treatment plan for the condition. There are two basic components to an asthma treatment plan:
- Long-term control medication: These drugs, which people inhale or take in the form of tablets or injections, prevent swelling, inflammation, and other asthma symptoms. People with asthma should take them regularly, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms.
- Quick-relief medications: Individuals use these drugs when they have symptoms or are experiencing an attack. People generally deliver these using an inhaler.
People with asthma often use natural treatments, also known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), to support their health and find relief from their symptoms.
The authors of a literature review noted that when they included folk medicine and prayer under the definition of CAM, 80% of children and 96–100% of adults included CAM practices in their asthma treatment.
Frequently used natural treatments include:
- Herbs, vitamins, and food supplements: Some evidence indicates that supplements of magnesium and fish oil could improve quality of life for people with asthma. Some studies suggest that taking vitamin D supplements could cut down on attacks, but the research is not conclusive.
- Mind-body practices, such as biofeedback: After studying biofeedback practices, one study found that they led to participants having better lung function and fewer asthma attacks.
- Manipulative body practices, such as massage: These practices may improve quality of life and reduce anxiety, which can be helpful for people who find that stress triggers their symptoms.
- Breathing techniques: Breathing practices may, over time, enable a person to reduce their use of quick-relief medications.
Although natural practices may be common, there is not much scientific evidence available to prove that they work. In addition, all treatments, particularly those that remain relatively unregulated, can have associated risks.
People with asthma should let their healthcare providers know if they are using any natural treatments.
Making lifestyle changes can help people manage their asthma more effectively. Positive actions include:
- quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke to avoid placing unnecessary stress on the respiratory system
- adopting a healthful diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables to help reduce inflammation and prevent asthma attacks, while protecting the heart
- using safer cleaning products to limit exposure to toxic chemicals
- working with a doctor to develop a safe exercise regimen to support and strengthen the body and reduce stress
- reducing stress through relaxation, meditation, and other self-nurturing practices
- maintaining a moderate weight, which can make it easier to manage symptoms
Asthma triggers are factors that can make an individual’s asthma symptoms worse or set off an asthma attack. People with asthma should limit exposure to their triggers or completely avoid them, where possible. Common triggers include:
- tobacco smoke
- air pollution from cars, trucks, particles, and ozone
- allergens from dust mites, cockroaches, rodents, cats, and dogs
- cleaning chemicals
- some medications, such as aspirin
- influenza or other upper respiratory tract viral infections
- emotional stress
People can try keeping a daily log of activities, exposure, and asthma symptoms to review later with a doctor. Using this information, the doctor may be able to recommend more ways to support a healthful lifestyle and manage asthma.
Although people can learn to manage asthma, it is a serious condition — at both an individual and a population level. Asthma is a significant cause of missed work and school, with an annual mortality rate of 13.3 per million adults in the U.S.
Researchers continue to work on developing new treatments. They are currently focusing on biologic therapies, which use specific antibodies to stop the progression of asthma and show promise as a treatment for flare-ups. Scientists are also working with microRNA to keep white blood cells from causing inflammation and other asthma symptoms.
Asthma is chronic and can be dangerous in its severe forms.
It is not curable, but it is manageable. People with asthma can work with their healthcare providers to establish the right mix of long-term control and quick-relief medications.
Individuals can educate themselves about asthma and be proactive about establishing a healthful lifestyle, which will also help them keep their symptoms under control.