Can You 'Outgrow' Asthma Symptoms?

Some people may see their asthma symptoms lessen, or completely go away, over time.

In the United States, many people are diagnosed with asthma per year. About one out of every 13 people live with the condition, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), totaling roughly 25 million Americans.

According to the AAFA, asthma is more common in women than men, and more children have asthma than any other chronic condition. 

But is it possible to "outgrow" your asthma symptoms—and can asthma go away? The answer is yes—well, sometimes. 

While children are more likely to outgrow their symptoms, adults may also see their symptoms disappear and go on to lead asthma-free lives. But outgrowing asthma is not true for everyone. Sometimes symptoms can come back on their own—even many years later.

Here's what to know about asthma, how symptoms go away, and who is most likely to achieve remission.

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What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed.

According to the National Library of Medicine, those inflamed and narrowed tubes can lead to the following symptoms:

  • Wheezing or a whistling sound during breathing
  • Coughing (at any time of day, but especially in the morning or night)
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath

The severity of those symptoms and how often they occur can signal what type of asthma someone has. Per the AAFA, the types of asthma include:

  • Intermittent asthma: This occurs when someone feels symptoms less than two times a week. Symptoms may wake them up during the night fewer than twice a month.
  • Mild persistent asthma: Symptoms show up twice a week or more with this type of asthma. Symptoms may wake a person up from sleep about three to four times each month.
  • Moderate persistent asthma: This occurs when a person experiences symptoms at least once a day and is woken up from symptoms at least once a week.
  • Severe persistent asthma: With the most severe type of asthma, a person experiences symptoms every day. They may be woken up from symptoms nightly.

Because asthma is a chronic illness, there's no cure for it. Though, treatments exist to manage symptoms. 

The most commonly prescribed treatment is an inhaler. A reliever inhaler eases symptoms, a preventer inhaler stops them, and a combination inhaler completes both tasks. 

Medications, like steroids, or specific surgeries are also available for more severe cases of asthma.

So Does Asthma Ever Go Away Completely?

The short answer: Yes, some children stop experiencing asthma symptoms as they age, Robert Giusti, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at NYU Langone, told Health

Asthma remission is especially true for children who start wheezing young. In some children, the wheezing clears up, and they live an asthma-free life. Healthcare providers aren't entirely sure why asthma clears up for some children but not others.

Asthma symptoms can become less and less frequent for adults, as well, Marilyn Li, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, told Health

"As to the [question] about asthma persistence, it really is a multifaceted issue," said Dr. Li. "Yes, in some adults, asthma can go from persistent to intermittent."

What Is Asthma Remission?

Remission is different from treatment. Usually, the goals of treatment are to minimize attacks and control symptoms. But remission goes one step beyond those goals.

Remission is when symptoms decrease or disappear entirely for at least 12 months. There are generally two types of asthma remission, which include: 

  • Symptomatic remission means that symptoms stop occurring.
  • Total or complete remission is when the underlying condition is no longer causing a problem.

The goal of remission is to control or manage symptoms to stop occurring with or without the need for treatment. 

Symptomatic remission does not address the underlying cause of asthma. Therefore, symptoms can return at any time, which is known as relapse. Total or complete remission is possible, but it also means that the underlying issue is no longer causing symptoms.

According to a study published in 2022 in the European Respiratory Journal, asthma can naturally go away on its own, which is relatively common for people who develop asthma as children. But even those who have outgrown asthma may experience relapse later in life.

The study also reported that anywhere between 2% to 52% of people might experience spontaneous remission. Spontaneous remission is when asthma symptoms disappear on their own.

Who Is Most Likely To Achieve Remission?

While remission is not a guarantee or a cure, certain factors increase the chances of being free of symptoms. According to the 2022 European Respiratory Journal study, those factors include:

  • Mild asthma
  • Lung function
  • Asthma control
  • Young age
  • Asthma that develops during childhood
  • Length of asthma
  • Airway response
  • Few or no other diseases
  • Quitting smoking or never having smoked

The study also reported that certain medication types might help people achieve remission. Those are biologics (monoclonal antibodies) and macrolide antibiotics like azithromycin. 

Biologics are effective for other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. While more research is needed, as of November 2022, those medications can at least control symptoms. Biologics may even slow the airway remodeling process, which happens when your airways change in response to a disease.

There's also a treatable traits approach focusing on underlying conditions. Those traits include other diseases, smoking, anxiety and depression, physical inactivity, and obesity. One or more of those conditions can also make managing asthma symptoms and exacerbations more challenging.

The study also pointed out that seeking help when you first notice asthma symptoms may increase your chances of remission. Early treatment can help slow or even reverse the process of airway remodeling in the early phases.

A Quick Review

Some people who see their asthma completely clear up never experience asthma symptoms again, nor do they require inhaled treatments. Dr. Li said other adults see their asthma symptoms become more infrequent. 

"The diagnosis may 'stay' with the patient as they are at risk of a recurrence of the symptoms," explained Dr. Li. But they may not need daily controller therapy if their symptoms are intermittent or are mild."

Overall, as of November 2022, there's limited research about who is likely to see remission or needs to continue with asthma treatment. So, it's a good idea to keep in contact with and consult an asthma specialist before quitting any treatments, according to Dr. Li.

"My best advice is to see a specialist and understand what type of asthma [you have]," noted Dr. Li. "From there, with appropriate therapy and follow-up, that person's asthma action plan [can be] tailored."

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