Asthma is a condition that most people have heard of, but there are many misconceptions surrounding it, which makes it difficult to understand what asthma truly is. It's helpful to know what asthma is because approximately 25 million Americans¹ suffer from it, which equates to approximately 1 in 13 people. One of the most common questions people ask about asthma is whether or not it can be permanently cured.
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Asthma is a respiratory condition that can cause your airways to narrow, making it difficult for you to breathe. Your airways may also produce excess mucus, which can also worsen asthma symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms associated with asthma include:
Shortness of breath
Wheezing, or a whistling sound when you breathe
Waking up at night due to difficulty breathing
Asthma attacks cause your airway muscles to tighten and mucus to clog your airways, which can produce what is known as an asthma attack. Mild asthma attacks may resolve within just a few minutes, while more severe ones can last for several hours or even days. Some activities or triggers can bring on asthma attacks, while some seem to come out of nowhere.
If you are struggling to breathe and frequently suffer from the symptoms listed above, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor for some testing. Your doctor may carry out a physical exam and have you perform some lung function tests to rule out other conditions and see how well your lungs currently work.
If your doctor determines that you indeed have asthma, there are a few treatment options that they may recommend, such as:
Quick-relief medications are those you can take when you first notice symptoms of an asthma attack. They work quickly to reopen your airways and prevent your symptoms from getting worse by using bronchodilators.
Most people with asthma are prescribed a quick-relief inhaler that contains short-acting beta-agonists or anticholinergic agents — though some people may be given oral steroids if their asthma attack symptoms don't go away with other methods.
Long-term asthma control medications are those that you regularly take to keep your asthma under control and prevent asthma attacks. They can include inhalers containing corticosteroids or a combination of medications, or they can be oral medications like leukotriene modifiers and theophylline.
Long-term asthma control medications are most effective when taken every day, and it can take several days or weeks to feel their benefit.
If it is determined that your asthma is largely caused by allergies or that allergies make your asthma much worse, your doctor may recommend that you take allergy medications. Allergy medication options include allergy shots, or immunotherapy, which introduces allergens to your immune system gradually until your body reacts to them less and less.
Most people who receive allergy shots start with one per week for a few months and are able to decrease the frequency to once every few months.
Another allergy medication option is biologics, which are designed for people with asthma. These medications can include mepolizumab, reslizumab, and omalizumab.
For those who haven't responded well to other asthma treatments, some doctors may recommend bronchial thermoplasty. As part of this procedure, your doctor will use an electrode to heat your airways, which reduces the amount of smooth muscle you have in them.
This makes it harder for your airways to tighten. Bronchial thermoplasty isn't commonly available, and your doctor may not recommend it for you.
There is no permanent cure for asthma, meaning there aren't any treatment options that can completely get rid of it. The above treatment options are highly effective for most people with asthma, especially when they are taken as directed by their doctor.
If you see a product or healthcare facility claim that they can cure your asthma, you should avoid spending your money and undergoing the "treatments" they offer.
Although there isn't a cure for asthma, there are some natural remedies and lifestyle changes that may improve your symptoms.
If you have asthma, your best course of action is to take your asthma medications as prescribed. These medications are designed to prevent you from suffering from asthma attacks and can stop attacks almost immediately when they occur.
If you want to try some natural remedies or lifestyle changes to do along with taking your medications, there are a few that may provide some potential benefits, including:
Evidence² shows a link between improved asthma symptoms among children who eat a Mediterranean diet, which is an eating plan that contains plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
This diet also emphasizes eating fish over red meat, and consuming high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish is associated with a lower risk of non-specific bronchial hyperresponsiveness. It is theorized that this type of diet can help reduce asthma symptoms because it can reduce inflammation around the body.
Even if following a diet like the Mediterranean diet doesn't directly help your asthma, it can enhance your overall health.
There is some evidence³ showing that consuming caffeine can improve your airway function to a small degree for a few hours. This doesn't mean you should guzzle coffee or energy drinks all day to improve your asthma symptoms, but it shows that caffeine may have a positive effect on airway function.
This also means that you should avoid consuming caffeine before a lung function test, as you will receive more accurate results.
It is widely established that stress can make asthma symptoms worse. One method that many people use to cope with stress is yoga. Yoga is a type of exercise that involves gentle movements and deep breathing. Some evidence⁴ shows that yoga may be able to reduce the number of asthma attacks a person experiences when they regularly practice.
If you want to give yoga a try, speak with your doctor first about a new exercise regimen and start slowly to prevent an exercise-induced asthma attack.
There are many other natural remedies to help asthma on the internet, but most don't have strong evidence to support such claims. You can always ask your doctor about lifestyle changes that can improve your asthma.
If you believe that you may have asthma, it is best that you see your doctor. They can run a few tests and conduct a physical exam to see whether your symptoms are indeed caused by asthma or something else. Once you receive a diagnosis, your doctor can give you some treatment options, or they may refer you to a specialist for more customized care.
Some people put off seeing their doctor even if they believe they have asthma, but untreated asthma can get worse over time and cause permanent damage to your lungs and airways.
As mentioned above, you should make an appointment to see your doctor if you believe you may have asthma. This can provide the quickest pathway toward getting the treatment you need to feel better.
You should also visit your doctor if your current treatment plan doesn't seem to be working as it should or if you have experienced a recent increase in the number and severity of symptoms you are experiencing.
If you already have an asthma diagnosis and suffer from severe symptoms, it may be best to get immediate medical attention. Symptoms that indicate you should get help include:
Confusion or agitation
Shortness of breath that doesn't improve when lying down
Fingernails or lips turning blue
Severe chest tightness
Hunched shoulders to try to breathe more easily
An asthma attack that doesn't respond to treatment
When in doubt about whether or not to visit a doctor, it's usually better to err on the side of caution and get yourself checked out.
Some people with asthma may feel defeated to learn that there is no permanent cure for the condition. But most people with asthma can still live long, happy lives thanks to the numerous treatment options available. If you or a loved one is struggling with asthma-like symptoms or your asthma has worsened again over time, it may be best to speak with your doctor.
Asthma facts and figures | Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America
Caffeine for asthma (2010)
What are the symptoms of asthma? | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
Asthma medicines and treatment | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
Asthma treatment | NHS
Strong emotions, stress and depression can trigger asthma | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA)
What is asthma? | American Lung Association
Asthma | Emergency Physicians.org