Asthma causes the airways to become inflamed and swollen, reducing the amount of air that can pass in and out of the lungs. However, there are several different types of asthma, and each has its own set of triggers.
Asthma affects around 9.4% of children and 7.7% of adults in the United States.
In many cases, asthma is a lifelong condition that a person can manage using medication and by avoiding triggers that cause asthma attacks.
Although childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma have similarities, symptoms can differ in severity. Learn more about the differences between adult-onset and childhood asthma here.
Certain triggers in the environment can also worsen the symptoms of asthma and cause asthma attacks.
Keep reading to learn more about the different types of asthma, including symptoms and treatment options.
Certain allergens in the environment can trigger allergic asthma. Some common allergens include:
- pet dander
- mold spores
- foods such as milk, eggs, and certain nuts
- dust mites, cockroaches, and cockroach feces
- irritants in the air, such as tobacco smoke and automobile and chemical fumes
- heavily fragranced products, such as perfumes
It is important for people with allergic asthma to seek treatment from a specialist, as this can help them manage their condition. They should also take any prescribed medication as a specialist directs.
The following tips may also help people with allergic asthma avoid common allergens:
- Vacuum and dust regularly in order to remove pet dander, dust mites, and cockroach allergens.
- Keep pets out of bedrooms.
- Avoid outdoor activities when pollen or air pollution levels are high.
- Avoid foods that trigger allergic reactions, such as milk, eggs, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts, including hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds.
- Reduce the use of harsh chemicals or heavily fragranced products at home.
Nonallergic or intrinsic asthma does not need an allergen to trigger an attack.
Nonallergic asthma is less common in children than allergic asthma, but it accounts for around
Experts believe that nonallergic asthma develops due to genetic and environmental factors.
For example, symptoms may occur when a person has exposure to:
- irritants in the air, such as smoke
- respiratory infections, such as a cold, flu, or sinus infection
People with symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing should seek help from an asthma specialist. They will help them determine why their symptoms are happening. However, this may take longer with nonallergic asthma, where there is no clear trigger.
To manage their symptoms, they should also take any prescribed medication as a specialist directs.
In seasonal asthma, symptoms flare up in certain conditions or at particular times of the year.
For example, a person with seasonal asthma may notice that symptoms are worse or only present during:
- hay fever season, when pollen levels are at their highest
- cold or hot weather, thunderstorms, and sudden changes in temperature
- days when air pollution is worse, such as still, cold days
- winter months, when there are more cold and flu viruses around
In many ways, seasonal asthma is similar to allergic asthma. In fact, people may use both terms to describe asthma attacks that occur during the pollen season.
People with seasonal asthma should seek medical treatment. This will help them manage their condition during periods when symptoms are likely to get worse.
They should also take any prescribed medication as a doctor or healthcare provider directs.
The following tips may also help reduce symptoms of seasonal asthma:
- Pay attention to local weather reports on air quality and pollen levels, and only plan outside activities for when conditions are less likely to trigger an asthma attack.
- Keep windows and doors closed, both at home and when traveling by car.
- Wear a scarf over the mouth and nose in cold weather to warm up air as it passes into the lungs.
- Keep medication on hand for quick relief from symptoms.
- Keep a diary to note which weather conditions seem to bring on symptoms.
People with occupational asthma may find that their symptoms are worse while working or that they improve with time off work.
In fact, up to 15% of asthma cases in the U.S. may be due to job-related exposure to paint chemicals, aerosols, insecticides, or other harmful substances.
How long the symptoms take to occur may depend on the level of exposure to these and other substances. Some people may have an asthma attack within 24 hours of exposure. In others, it may take months or even years for symptoms to develop.
People with occupational asthma should seek treatment from a doctor or healthcare provider. This may help them identify what is causing their symptoms, limit further exposure, and ease symptoms.
They should also take any prescribed medication as a doctor or specialist directs.
Exercise-induced asthma occurs when symptoms flare up during or immediately after exercise or another form of strenuous activity. This may happen around 5–20 minutes after the exercise. In addition, up to 90% of people with asthma experience symptoms after exercise.
Although it is common to experience shortness of breath after exercise, exercise-induced asthma may also cause coughing, wheezing, and chest pain, ranging from mild to severe.
The following factors may also worsen symptoms of exercise-induced asthma:
- chlorinated pools
- exposure to polluted air while running or cycling outside
- cold, dry air while ice skating or playing hockey
- warm, humid air while doing hot yoga
Asthma medications can often treat the symptoms effectively. However, it is important for people to see a doctor if their symptoms are not responding to regular medication.
The following tips may also help reduce the risk of an asthma attack during or after exercise:
- Use an inhaler before exercise and keep it close to hand when exercising.
- Avoid exercising with a viral infection.
- Warm up before exercise to help loosen the airways.
- Cool down after exercise to help breathing slow gradually.
- Wear a scarf over the nose and mouth when exercising outdoors.
- Avoid exercises that result in labored or heavy breathing.
Although difficult-to-control asthma is not an accepted subtype or diagnosis, some people do find their symptoms much harder to manage.
Such symptoms may happen frequently, or the person may be having life threatening asthma attacks.
There are a range of reasons that asthma can be difficult to control, including:
- having another underlying health condition, such as heart disease or diabetes
- smoking or frequently being in smoky environments
- not taking medication at the right times or at the correct dosage
It is important for people with difficult-to-control asthma to speak to an asthma specialist about their medication and any underlying health conditions or environmental factors they think may be involved.
A specialist can help the person take their medication in the right way and at the right time. A 2017 study suggests that this can be an effective way to manage hard-to-treat asthma.
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for living with asthma and allergies, visit our dedicated hub.
Experts consider asthma to be severe when symptoms do not improve with standard medications. People with severe asthma are likely to:
- have more asthma attacks than people with mild-to-moderate asthma
- spend more time in the hospital as a result of their asthma
- need steroid tablets long-term
The symptoms of severe asthma are the same as those of mild-to-moderate asthma but more intense. They can sometimes be life threatening.
Treatment options for severe asthma can vary depending on the symptoms and how a person responds to certain medications.
A specialist can help determine which specific treatments are best for each person.
Here are some questions people often ask about types of asthma.
What are some types of asthma?
Based on the cause, a person may refer to allergic or nonallergic asthma, occupational asthma, exercise-induced asthma, and seasonal asthma. However, some of these overlap. For instance, seasonal asthma will most likely occur in response to an allergen, such as pollen.
What is the most serious type of asthma?
Severe, persistent asthma is the most serious type, but this could be allergic or nonallergic, work-related, and so on. Working with a doctor, using recommended medications, and avoiding triggers — if relevant — can enable a person to manage their asthma.
Is chronic asthma a disability?
In the U.S., the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and section 508 consider asthma a disability if it affects a person’s ability to carry out everyday activities, such as attending school or the workplace, and breathing or eating freely.
Asthma refers to chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. It can develop or flare at any age, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe.
There are several types of asthma. Experts may classify them by their triggers, which include allergens and exercise.
Regardless of its type, treatment can usually help people manage asthma effectively.
Talking to an asthma specialist and taking medication correctly can help a person live a full and active life.