What Happens When Asthma Is Left Untreated?

What Is Uncontrolled Asthma?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 25 million adults and children in the United States have asthma. Asthma symptoms can vary in severity. Although there is currently no cure for asthma, the condition can be managed.

What Are the Symptoms of Uncontrolled Asthma?

Unfortunately, some people have asthma that is not well controlled. Uncontrolled asthma can involve poor control of symptoms, frequent exacerbations, and severe asthma symptoms.

There are several signs that your asthma may be worsening. Keep in mind; you don’t have to experience all of the signs and symptoms below to have uncontrolled asthma.

Signs of uncontrolled asthma may include the following:

  • You are having symptoms of asthma that are more severe than they were in the past.
  • You’re having an increase in asthma symptoms.
  • You are waking up at night and losing sleep due to asthma symptoms.
  • Your asthma maintenance or controller medications are not as effective as they once were.
  • You are using your quick-acting asthma medications more often.
  • You’re unable to exercise as you once did. An inability to exercise may occur due to an increase in asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath.
  • Peak flow measurements are 50 percent less than your baseline.
  • You are missing work or school more often due to asthma symptoms.
  • You are hospitalized due to asthma flare-ups.

Recognizing your asthma in uncontrolled is the first step to gain better asthma management. The sooner you determine your asthma is not under control, the quicker you can work with your doctor to develop a better treatment plan.

What Causes Uncontrolled Asthma?

There are several reasons why a person’s asthma may have become worse and is not controlled. For example, exposure to certain allergens may trigger asthma symptoms. If exposure to the allergens continues, it may be challenging to get symptoms under control.

There may be other instances when asthma medications are no longer effective. For example, asthma controller medications may include a corticosteroid to prevent airway inflammation. It’s possible that a medication may not work as well as it once did to keep symptoms at bay.

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Asthma may also become uncontrolled if you do not follow your treatment plan. Non-compliance with an asthma treatment plan may include not taking certain medications as prescribed.

Increased stress may also make asthma symptoms worse. Increased stress may trigger the release of certain hormones leading to inflammation, which can cause an increase in asthma symptoms. In some cases, the cause of uncontrolled asthma may not be fully understood.

Long-Term Effects of Untreated Asthma

Regardless of the cause, if asthma is uncontrolled and not treated successfully, it can have long-term effects. Possible consequences of untreated asthma include:

  • Decreased quality of life: Recurrent asthma symptoms may cause someone to feel unwell more often and even change their lifestyle. If asthma controls an individual instead of them managing their disease, it can decrease a person’s quality of life.
  • Limitation on activity: Asthma symptoms can make it difficult to participate in certain activities, such as exercise. A fear of asthma symptoms developing may also lead to decreased activity.
  • Missed school or work: Uncontrolled asthma may prevent a person from carrying out their day to day activities, and that includes going to work or school. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is one of the top reasons for missed school days.
  • A decline in lung function: Untreated asthma can lead to persistent airway inflammation. It’s possible that long-term inflammation may cause structural changes in the airway. Some studies have indicated that intermittent episodes of worsening airway inflammation can lead to a decrease in lung function over time.
  • Increased risk of developing an acute severe asthma attack:  If asthma is not treated, it increases a person’s risk of being hospitalized for asthma and developing a life-threatening asthma attack. The symptoms of a severe asthma attack may not respond to traditional treatments, and the attack may be difficult to reverse. According to the CDC, about 3600 people die every year from a severe asthma attack.

How to Prevent Uncontrolled Asthma

Asthma should not be allowed to become uncontrolled. It’s essential to work with your doctor to make sure your asthma is managed. Consider the following suggestions to prevent uncontrolled asthma:

  • Decrease exposure to asthma triggers: Identify your asthma triggers and try to decrease exposure as much as possible. Some common asthma triggers include mild, pollen, and cigarette smoke.
  • Take precautions to avoid infections: Respiratory infections can cause asthma symptoms to worsen and may prevent you from getting your asthma under control. Wash your hands frequently, avoid contact with people that are ill, and get your flu vaccine every year.
  • Take medications as prescribed: Take your respiratory and allergy medications as prescribed by your doctor. If side effects are bothering you, tell your doctor. There may be alternative medications that will be effective. But talk to your doctor before you stop taking any asthma medications.
  • Follow your asthma action plan: If you have asthma, you should have an asthma action plan that you developed with your doctor. Your plan should include ways to monitor your asthma, medications to take, and what to do if symptoms become worse.
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