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Asthma Complications and Long-Term Effects

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 01, 2020

Asthma can begin when you’re a child or adult. There isn’t a cure, but if you stay away from triggers and use medication, you can keep it under control.

If this doesn’t happen, long-term effects and complications can impact your health and daily life.

What Happens When Asthma Isn’t Controlled

If your asthma is mild to moderate but isn’t under control, you may:

  • Feel like something is tightening around your chest
  • Cough
  • Have a hard time breathing
  • Make a whistling sound (wheezing) when you inhale and exhale

In children, unmanaged asthma can slow growth or delay puberty.

Some people’s lungs change when the tubes that bring air in and out of them are always swollen. The airways get narrower, your lungs have scars, and it’s tough to breathe. This is called airway remodeling. Doctors need to learn more about this condition. But they do know that medication often stops the swelling. Airway remodeling can make asthma medications less effective, so it’s important that you start asthma treatment as soon as possible.

Your lungs are vulnerable to infections like pneumonia too. They also may not work as well when you age. Some loss of function is normal when you’re older, but asthma that isn’t treated can speed up the process. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have trouble breathing as an adult. They can determine if it’s from aging, asthma, or something else.

Uncontrolled Asthma vs. Severe Asthma

If you continue to have symptoms even when you take medication, you may have a different type of the condition called severe asthma. If this is the case, you can have symptoms every day. This can affect your life in many ways. You may:

  • Find it difficult to perform at work or school
  • Need to take time off from work or school
  • Constantly wake up and be unable to sleep well
  • Feel stressed and have depression or anxiety

Serious attacks can make you go to the hospital -- severe asthma symptoms can lead to two or more emergency room/hospital visits a year.

You’ll need to take corticosteroids to manage your symptoms. If your asthma is severe, you could have side effects from the medications you take to control it long-term.

Taking Control of Your Asthma

If you suspect you have asthma, tell your doctor. If you already have a diagnosis, look for signs that your treatment isn’t working or your asthma is getting worse.

Certain things like the common cold can cause a flare-up every now and then, but it shouldn’t happen often. If you take regular medication but use quick-relief treatment more than two times a week, your asthma may be severe or isn’t under control.

Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor can change the drugs you use. They may also suggest lifestyle changes or recommend you see a specialist. These adjustments should provide relief.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Wheezing,” “Asthma.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Asthma.”

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Asthma Overview.”

National Asthma Council Australia: “Asthma & Older Adults.”

Asthma Initiative of Michigan for Healthy Lungs: “Airway Remodeling.”

American Lung Association: “How Asthma Affects Your Body,” “Uncontrolled Asthma vs. Severe Asthma: How to Get the Right Diagnosis.”

Frontiers of Medicine: “Airway Remodeling in Asthma.”

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