Does Asthma Go Away? Here’s What Experts Say
Plus, why it's important to keep in contact with an asthma specialist, even if your symptoms lessen.
Many Americans are diagnosed with asthma every year: About one out of every 13 people in the US 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.
That said, you might associate asthma with children, since the condition is often diagnosed during childhood. But is it possible to "grow out" of your asthma symptoms—and does asthma go away? Health spoke with experts to find out what you need to know about whether it's possible for asthma symptoms to ever fully disappear.
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 US National Library of Medicine.
These inflamed and narrowed airways can lead to the following symptoms:
- 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 also signal what type of asthma someone suffers from, 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 time 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.
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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, tells 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 frequents for adults, too, Marilyn Li, MD, an allergist at the Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center, tells Health. "As to the [question] about asthma persistence, it really is a multifaceted issue," Dr. Li says. "Yes, in some adults asthma can go from persistent to intermittent."
Total remission—meaning the patient no longer experiences asthma symptoms at all—is very rare. According to information from a clinical trial on asthma remission, which was published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), only about 15 to 25% of people see complete asthma remission. "In a small subset of patients, their asthma resolves spontaneously. This phenomenon is called asthma remission," the study reads. "Unfortunately asthma remission occurs only in a small subset of asthma patients."
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What does asthma remission look like—and can you flare after being in remission?
According to the NIH study, the small number of 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, Dr. Li says. "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," she explains.
And sometimes, even in those who have technically experienced asthma remission, symptoms may reappear, according to a 2003 paper published in Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine. The paper also shares that some adults can start to experience asthmatic symptoms even if they haven't suffered from any since childhood.
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]," she says. "From there, with appropriate therapy and follow-up, that person's asthma action plan [can be] tailored."
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