7 Asthma Types: They’re Not All The Same
Millions of people in the United States deal with asthma. And when we talk about asthma in that way, we so often group it all into one type of illness. But the truth is there are many different types of asthma.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology defines asthma as “a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs.” But that idea plays out so many different ways in different people.
Asthmatics can have a wide variety of symptoms brought on by all sorts of triggers. And understanding what type of asthma you are dealing with is the key to proper treatment.
So below you are going to get a rundown of 7 different asthma types. I’ll also include common treatment options. And one natural alternative that can potentially help all asthma types.
7 Asthma Types to Know About
1. Allergic Asthma
Most kids who have allergies also have asthma and about one-half of adults who have allergies also have asthma too. That’s because the same allergens that give you itchy eyes, a runny nose, and scratchy throat can also constrict your airways.
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These allergens can include:
- Dust or dust mites
- And more
Allergens are not inherently bad. Cat hair and dust by themselves are not harmful. The problem for those with allergies is that for some reason, your immune system thinks they invaders. These asthma and allergy symptoms come from your body trying to combat that “invader.”
Normally allergy testing is the best way to determine that you have allergic asthma. When it’s confirmed, you must try to limit all exposure to the allergens that trigger both your allergy and asthma symptoms. This includes:
- Frequently changing your air filters
- Cleaning regularly
- Re-homing pets
- Managing humidity to prevent mold
- Watching pollen counts to know when to stay inside
Since completely removing yourself from allergens is never possible, you can also get allergy and asthma medications to manage your symptoms.
2. Non-Allergic Asthma
There are lots of asthma triggers that essentially work the same way as allergens, but they aren’t allergens. They’re simply irritants. They include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Strong scents
- Cold air
- Various medical conditions
The diagnosis and treatment is basically the same as allergic asthma. Going to your doctor for an allergy test can help you rule out allergic asthma and start figuring out what your non-allergic asthma triggers are.
3. Cough-Variant Asthma
When we think of asthma, we normally think of difficulty breathing. But with cough-variant asthma the No. 1 symptom is not shortness of breath, but coughing. In fact, most of the time, you’ll never have issues with shortness of breath.
With cough-variant asthma, the cough will be dry and what medical professionals call “non-productive” – which basically means you’re not coughing anything up. You’re just coughing to cough.
The most common triggers that lead to a cough-variant asthma attack are exercise and respiratory infections. But other things like cold air, strong smells (like perfume), taking beta-blockers, or even dust can lead to a coughing attack.
Anyone can develop cough-variant asthma at different stages throughout their lifetime. But it is most commonly found in children.
Of course, there are lots of other conditions that could lead to persistent coughing, so it’s really important to talk to your doctor and get the right diagnosis. There’s normally a bunch of testing that needs to be done to ensure it’s this rarer type of asthma.
Once you are diagnosed, asthma inhalers are normally the preferred treatment.
4. Exercise-Induced Asthma or Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction
Everybody has a little bit of a hard time catching their breath when they are exercising. But you’re normally fine after a minute or two of rest.
People with Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction or EIB will have asthma symptoms from 5 to 20 minutes after exercising (some hours later!). And often the symptoms are more severe than just catching your breath. It can come with wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and even some pain.
For these people, the tubes that bring air into the lungs begin narrowing. This happens for many reasons:
- You are sucking in significantly more air. Normal breathing is about one gallon per minute. Breathing during exercise is often two to three gallons per minute.
- The cold, dry air can trigger the asthma. When you breathe normally, the air is moistened and warmed after it enters your body. But that fast, shallow exercise breath doesn’t give enough time for that.
Some people who have EIB also have allergic asthma, which brings another trigger. Often people exercise outside and expose themselves to more allergens. But you certainly don’t have to have asthma at any other point in your life to have EIB.
Make sure you visit your doctor for a clear diagnosis because sometimes simply being out of shape gives you the same exact symptoms. If you do learn you have EIB, there are lots of different medications you can take before you work out to help prevent an attack. All EIB should bring a rescue inhaler anytime they participate in physical activity.
5. Occupational Asthma
Some people work in environments with substances that cause asthma symptoms. Different jobs expose you to all sorts of things that could cause an asthma attack, including:
- Materials like cotton or flax
- Foods like grains or coffee beans
- Metals like platinum or chromium
You’ll experience some or all of the normal symptoms associated with asthma including shortness of breath, tightness in your chest, wheezing, coughing, etc. You may also have allergy symptoms like a stuffy or runny nose.
This diagnosis is fairly simple. If you have asthma symptoms on the days you work and then have improvements on your days off, you probably have occupational asthma.
Once you know that you have occupational asthma, you have a few choices:
- You can get on asthma medications to help control the symptoms
- You can ask to be moved to a different area with less exposure
- You can switch jobs
Luckily there are government regulations in place to help reduce the chances of high exposure to common occupational asthma triggers in the workplace. But some are unavoidable, like if you are a hair stylist who is allergic to all the chemicals used in a hair salon.
6. Nighttime Asthma
Nighttime asthma, often called nocturnal asthma, has all the same symptoms of asthma – they just happen at nighttime. (If you work a graveyard shift, the ‘nighttime’ asthma will happen during the day. It’s whenever your sleeping time is.)
There are lots of reasons that asthma gets so bad at night. Your airways are often cooler, your hormones are different, and your reclined position can obstruct breathing. For some people with nighttime asthma, sleep itself is a trigger.
Two major problems of nighttime asthma are:
- It affects your sleep: The coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep night after night
- It can be life-threatening: Most deaths from asthma happen during the night
There’s no way to cure or fully stop nighttime asthma, but there are definitely options to help treat the symptoms so you can sleep safely each night. This includes long-acting bronchodilators (short-acting probably won’t get you through the whole night).
Also, be sure to make your room as allergen-free as possible. Don’t allow pets to come into your room. Wash your sheets frequently and your pillowcases daily. Take a shower before getting into bed to remove any pollen. Dust regularly.
7. Steroid-Resistant Asthma
About 5% to 10% of asthmatics have steroid-resistant asthma. These are asthma patients who may fall into any of the other types above, but they have one major variation: they do not respond to glucocorticoids – which means normal asthma medications don’t help them or they insufficiently help them.
Before landing on this diagnosis, talk to your doctor and even have a second opinion to make sure that you didn’t receive an incorrect asthma diagnosis. Remember, other conditions can give you asthma symptoms.
You also need to make sure that you are taking all the normal asthma precautions. For example, if you are terribly allergic to dust and never ever clean that dust – your steroid treatments may not be able to adequately overcome your environment.
Your doctor can go over some of your treatment alternatives with you.
One Treatment Alternative You May Not Have Thought Of
Every single one of these asthma types will need medical treatment. When you’re talking about something as serious as breathing, taking advantage of rescue inhalers and bronchodilators and allergy medications can literally save your life.
But all asthma types may be greatly improved in natural ways too. There are many different all-natural substances that offer your body relief from allergy and asthma related symptoms. Top choices and their benefits include (keep in mind that asthma is an inflammatory condition):
- Quercetin: Allergen blocker
- Boswellia Extract: Anti-inflammatory
- Nettle Extract: Anti-inflammatory
- Coleus Forskohlii Extract: Antihistamine
- N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine: Aids respiratory disorders
- Butterbur Extract: Antihistamine
- Vitamin D: Anti-Inflammatory
Reminder: these are never to replace any sort of rescue inhaler. They will not stop an asthma attack. Instead, they support your breathing and allergies over the long-term to minimize your symptoms and hopefully keep some asthma attacks away.
Figuring Out What Asthma Type You Have
If you experience asthma symptoms (or as we learned if you have no asthma symptoms other than persistent coughing), head to your doctor to get a diagnosis. Each asthma type is slightly different from the next and treatment options differ too.
You can set your lungs up for success once you know exactly what you’re dealing with.