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Research has revolutionised the lives of people with asthma

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Working with your local Asthma Foundation

How is severe asthma different from other types of asthma?

There are many different types of asthma, and whilst most will cause similar symptoms, they can be caused by different things happening in the body. Most people with asthma experience mild-moderate symptoms and respond well to commonly prescribed medication. Read more about 'preventers' and 'relievers'. However, some continue to have uncontrolled asthma and are at high risk of flare-ups despite being prescribed high doses of preventer medication. This is called difficult to treat asthma.

Difficult to treat asthma

Whilst some people with asthma that is difficult to treat do have severe asthma, this is not the case for everyone. For many people, there are reasons for asthma being difficult to treat, which can be addressed, such as:

  • incorrect use of medicine – not using preventer inhalers correctly or regularly or being unable to use a device appropriately
  • smoking
  • having other medical conditions that make asthmasymptoms worse and more difficult to control (e.g. a heart condition or a different lung condition)
  • frequent exposure to triggers such as irritants or allergens
  • Oesophageal Reflux disease

People with difficult asthma can sometimes experience improvements in their asthma control by taking their medication as prescribed, having correct inhaler technique, reducing trigger exposure and/or treating other conditions. Some people with asthma that initially appears to be severe may even be found to have mild asthma which is easily able to be controlled once these important factors are addressed.

Some people with difficult to treat asthma have severe asthma

This means they continue to have frequent asthma symptoms and/or frequent flare-ups, even when the diagnosis has been checked, other conditions are being managed and treated, and whilst taking regular high-dose preventer medication as prescribed.

People with difficult to treat or severe asthma should be referred to a respiratory specialist for assessment and for discussion about treatment options to better manage their condition and help get their symptoms under control. There are some 'add-on' asthma treatments and special medicines that are used for the treatment of severe asthma that need to be prescribed by a specialist once a diagnosis of severe asthma has been confirmed. Read more about 'Diagnosing severe asthma' and 'Treating severe asthma'.

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