What are the different types of asthma?

Allergic Asthma

Allergic asthma used to be called "extrinsic asthma"—the way I remember this is that in this case, it is things external to your body that cause symptoms. Now, we’ll get to why that doesn’t work well in a naming scheme in just a moment!

65 to 75% of adults with asthma have at least one allergy. Allergies are reactions to “every day" substances that the body overreacts to and tries to “protect” us from with an immune system response, triggering symptoms of sneezing, itching, swelling, and—in some cases—asthma symptoms or life-threatening symptoms known as anaphylaxis.

Common allergens that trigger asthma include dust mites, pollen from plants and grasses, pet dander (skin flakes from an animal), and mold.

Non-Allergic Asthma

After reading a descriptor of what allergic asthma is, things other than allergens trigger non-allergic asthma! However, while this type of asthma was previously called intrinsic asthma, this can cause some confusion! While some of these triggers are “inside” your body as one might deduce, many of these triggers are other inhaled irritants or phenomena that may affect asthma but are not allergens. , any asthma trigger that is not an allergen is a non-allergic trigger!

Non-allergic asthma triggers include smoke (from all sources—cigarette, fire, or otherwise),. While "phenomena" may be a strange way to explain asthma symptoms, some asthma symptoms are not caused by anything inhaled at all, allergic or not. Other non-allergic asthma triggers include psychological stress, colds and cases of flu, and hormonal fluctuations in women—such as asthma worsening during or before menstruation, or improving or worsening during pregnancy. Weather is another such “phenomena” that can affect asthma, such as heat and humidity or rain, and cold air. Exercise is another asthma trigger that is considered non-allergic.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

While exercise can trigger asthma in those with other asthma triggers, exercise-induced asthma (EIA, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction—EIB) also affects those who do not have other asthma triggers. 70-90% of people with asthma experience symptoms triggered by exercise. Also, elite athletes are more likely to experience EIB. While people with asthma are generally instructed to avoid their triggers as much as possible, exercise is the one trigger that should not be avoided.

Exercise-induced asthma is thought to be caused by the rapid inhalation and exhalation of air, which—in tandem with dehydration caused by exercise—“dries out” the airways, making them more sensitive and irritated. This drying out leads to bronchoconstriction or bronchospasm—the cause of asthma symptoms—which may be more challenging to manage when also exposed to other triggers while exercising. Using your inhaler before exercise as recommended by your doctor and engaging in a longer gradual warm-up and cool down may help you manage exercise-induced asthma.

A person with asthma may experience all of these types of asthma, or only one! Each type of asthma may have different steps to manage or require different treatment approaches, so it may take trial-and-error and various tests to figure out what works for you to feel your best.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about asthma, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

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