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Harvard Commentaries
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Harvard Commentaries
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


Classifying Your Asthma


July 28, 2008

Asthma
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Assess Your Health
Classifying Your Asthma
Classifying Your Asthma
htmIdentifyingAsthma
Everyone's asthma is different, because the things that influence the onset and severity of symptoms vary from person to person.
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InteliHealth
2008-07-28
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InteliHealth/Harvard Medical Content
2010-07-08

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Classifying Your Asthma
 
Everyone's asthma is somewhat different, because the things that influence the onset and severity of symptoms vary from person to person. These differences can include the following:
  • The allergen or irritant (the trigger) that jump-starts inflammation
  • The degree of sensitivity to a trigger
  • The amount of inflammation associated with each trigger
  • The degree to which airways clog or tighten up in response to inflammation
Working with a health care professional to characterize your asthma will help you set goals for improving and controlling your asthma symptoms. Recognizing how your symptoms affect you when your asthma is more or less severe is an important first step. Your symptoms at different times guide the selection of the drugs you need to take and how often you need to take them.
 
The ultimate goal is to have no symptoms or only infrequent ones. For someone with moderate asthma, this goal may be only a short jump away. For someone with more severe asthma, a reasonable first goal should be to reduce the number of flare-ups, sudden asthma attacks or emergency visits to a health-care provider or hospital.

 

Identifying The Severity Of Your Asthma
 
You may have a different severity level of your asthma at different times, depending upon recent exposures or seasonal triggers. It's helpful to know the severity of your asthma because your treatment should be more intensive or less intensive, depending upon your asthma’s current symptoms.
 
Mild Asthma
    • Symptoms occur no more than one to two times each week.

    • Symptoms don't last long and are easily relieved by using a fast-acting bronchodilator (an airway-opening drug).

 

    • Nighttime symptoms occur less than twice a month.
 
Moderate Asthma
    • Symptoms occur more than two times a week — almost daily.

    • You need an inhaler almost every day to open the airways and make breathing easier.

 

    • Nighttime symptoms occur more than twice a month.
 
Severe Asthma
    • Symptoms occur every day, for most of the day.

    • Symptoms limit physical activity.

    • Nighttime symptoms occur several times a week.

 

    • In the past year, one or more asthma flare-ups (sudden increases in difficulty breathing) have required you to stay in the hospital. (Anyone who has had a life-threatening asthma attack has severe asthma.)
Keep in mind that the severity of your asthma isn't permanent. It can get better or worse, depending on your environment and how well you are taking care of yourself.
 
If your asthma fades from moderate to mild, your health care professional may have you cut back on your asthma drugs. If you continue to do well, you may be able to stop taking some of them.
 
If your asthma heads in the other direction, from mild to moderate or moderate to severe, your doctor may add new drugs to your treatment plan to lessen your symptoms. By regularly assessing where you stand, you can alert your health care professional when you may need to add a new drug or increase your dosage or when you may be ready to taper off your asthma drugs. Never make any changes in your treatment without discussing them first with your health care professional.
 
By monitoring for changes in the severity of your asthma symptoms, you can be aware when new triggers or increased exposure to triggers may be worsening your asthma.
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