Does Asthma Go Away?

Here's why asthma can disappear in some people, plus, why it's important to keep in contact with an asthma specialist, even if symptoms lessen.

Many Americans are diagnosed with asthma every year: About one out of every 13 people in the U.S. live with the condition, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), totaling roughly 25 million Americans.

The condition is more common in adult women than adult men, per the AAFA, and more children suffer from asthma than any other chronic condition. So, you might associate asthma with children since it is often diagnosed during childhood.

But is it possible to "grow out" of your asthma symptoms—and can asthma go away? The answer is yes—well, sometimes. While children are more likely to outgrow their symptoms, adults, too, may also see their symptoms disappear and go on to lead asthma-free lives. But this is not true for everyone, and sometimes symptoms can come back on their own—even many years later.

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

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What Is Asthma?

Just a quick refresher: Asthma is a chronic lung condition, in which the tubes (aka airways) that carry air in and out of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed, according to MedlinePlus, a resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

These inflamed and narrowed airways can lead to the following symptoms:

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

  • Intermittent asthma: When someone feels symptoms less than two times a week and wakes up at night fewer than twice a month.
  • Mild persistent asthma: When someone shows symptoms twice a week or more and wakes up from symptoms three to four times each month.
  • Moderate persistent asthma: When a patient experiences symptoms at least once a day and is woken up from symptoms at least once a week.
  • Severe persistent asthma: When a patient experiences symptoms every day and is woken up from them every night.

Because asthma is a chronic illness, there's no cure for it, though treatments exist to manage symptoms. The most commonly prescribed treatment is the use of an inhaler (a reliever inhaler to relieve symptoms, a preventer inhaler to prevent them, or a combination inhaler for both). Medications like steroids or certain surgeries are also available for more severe cases.

So Does Asthma Ever Go Away Completely?

The short answer is: Yes, some kids stop experiencing asthma symptoms as they get older, Robert Giusti, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at NYU Langone, told Health. This is especially true for children who start wheezing at a young age. In some, the wheezing clears up, and they go on to live an asthma-free life. Doctors don't know exactly why asthma clears up for some children but not others.

Asthma symptoms can become less and less frequent for adults, too, Marilyn Li, MD, an allergist at the Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center, 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 this.

Remission is when symptoms decrease and or disappear completely for at least 12 months or more. There are generally two types of remission when we're talking about asthma. Symptomatic remission means that symptoms stop occurring, while total or complete remission is when the underlying condition is no longer causing a problem.

Basically, the goal of remission is to control or manage symptoms so that they stop occurring with or without the need for treatment. Because symptomatic remission does not address the underlying cause of asthma, symptoms can return at any time, which is known as relapse. Total or complete remission—meaning the patient no longer experiences asthma symptoms at all—is also possible, but also means that the underlying issue is no longer causing symptoms.

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

The study also reports that anywhere from 2% to 52% of people may experience spontaneous remission. That's a pretty big range, anywhere from a very small group of people to slightly more than half of people with asthma. 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, there are certain factors that increase the chances of being free of symptoms. The 2022 study mentioned above reported that the following factors may increase the likelihood of remission:

  • Mild asthma
  • Better lung function
  • Better asthma control
  • Younger age
  • Asthma starting in childhood
  • Short duration of asthma
  • Less reactive airway response
  • Few or no other diseases
  • Having quit smoking or never having smoked

Certain types of medication may also help people achieve remission, according to the study. These are biologics (monoclonal antibodies) and macrolide antibiotics like azithromycin. Biologics are relatively newer treatments and have been effective for other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. While more research is needed, these medications are at least able to control symptoms and may even slow the process of airway remodeling, which happens when your airways change in response to a disease.

There is also a treatable traits approach where the focus is on underlying conditions. These traits include other diseases, smoking, anxiety and depression, and physical inactivity and obesity. Having one or more of these conditions can also make asthma symptoms and exacerbations more difficult to manage.

The same study also points out that seeking help when you first start to notice symptoms of asthma may also increase your chances of achieving remission. This is because you can help slow or even reverse the process of airway remodeling in the early phases.

The Takeaway

Some people who see their asthma completely clear up never experience asthma symptoms again, nor do they need required inhaled treatments. Other adults simply see their asthma symptoms become more and more infrequent, said Dr. Li. "The diagnosis may 'stay' with the patient as they are at risk of a recurrence of the symptoms, but they may not need daily controller therapy if their symptoms are intermittent or are mild," explained Dr. Li.

Overall though, little is known about who is likely to see remission and who will likely need to stay on an asthma treatment for the rest of their life, so it's a good idea to keep in contact with an asthma specialist and talk at length with them before quitting any treatments, according to Dr. Li.

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

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