The results of your physical exam and diagnostic tests can help your doctor classify how severe your asthma is, which helps guide how it should be treated.
The four main classifications of asthma are:
Mild intermittent: This is the mildest form of asthma. Generally, people with mild intermittent asthma have mild symptoms up to two days a week and up to two nights a month.
Mild persistent: You have mild persistent asthma if you have asthma symptoms more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day.
Moderate persistent: If you have asthma symptoms once a day and more than one night a week, you may have moderate persistent asthma.
Severe/persistent: This is the most severe form of asthma, causing symptoms throughout the day on most days and frequently at night.
Asthma accounts for millions of missed school days and workdays each year. It’s also a common reason for emergency room visits and hospitalizations. You can reduce your risk of severe attacks by making sure your asthma is well controlled and by knowing how to recognize and treat attacks before they occur.
Controlling your asthma can also help you avoid serious side effects from long-term use of some medications used to stabilize severe asthma. Using inhaled corticosteroids, which have fewer side effects than oral corticosteroids, can help you reduce the need for emergency treatment of asthma.
The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to identify and avoid indoor and outdoor allergens and irritants. That’s easier said than done because thousands of outdoor allergens and irritants – ranging from pollen and mold to cold air and air pollution – can trigger your attacks. A number of indoor allergens, including dust mites, cockroaches, pet dander and mold, can do the same. A common asthma irritant is tobacco smoke.
Even if you reduce indoor and outdoor allergens and irritants, managing asthma can be challenging. It often takes ongoing communication and teamwork with your doctor. But by working together, you and your doctor can design a step-by-step plan for living with your condition. In addition to knowing and avoiding your triggers, develop an action plan, monitor your breathing and treat attacks early.
Develop an action plan. With your doctor and health care team, write a detailed plan for taking maintenance medications and managing an acute attack. Then be sure to follow your plan. Asthma is an ongoing condition that needs regular monitoring and treatment. Taking control of your treatment can make you feel more in control of your life in general.
Monitor your breathing. You may learn to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, such as slight coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. But because your lung function may decrease before you notice any signs or symptoms, regularly measure your peak airflow with a home peak flow meter.
Treat attacks early. If you act quickly, you’re less likely to have a severe attack. You also won’t need as much medication to control your symptoms. When your peak flow measurements decrease and alert you to an impending attack, take your medication as instructed and immediately stop any activity that may have triggered the attack. If your symptoms don’t improve, get medical help as directed in your action plan.