Asthma is a long-term condition

For most people, asthma is a life-long condition, especially if it starts in adulthood.

It's natural to have a lot of questions about the future when you've recently been diagnosed with asthma - or your child has. You might be concerned about whether it will get worse as time goes on. Or you may be wondering whether you'll really need to keep taking your asthma medicines for the rest of your life. Read on to find out what asthma means for your future health.

Will I always have asthma?

For most people, asthma is a life-long condition, especially if it starts in adulthood. But for some children diagnosed with asthma, the condition might improve or disappear completely as they get older. It can return later in life, though, sometimes triggered by events such as menopause or lifestyle or environment changes, such as going to a new workplace that means you're exposed to more of your triggers. And if your child has moderate or severe asthma, the symptoms are more likely to carry on or come back than if your child has mild asthma.

The good news is that even though asthma is a long-term condition, it can usually be well managed in most people. Asthma medicines are now very effective, so if you use your medicine as prescribed and discussed with your GP/asthma nurse and get into a good routine, you can manage your symptoms and lead an active life, just like people without asthma. Saying that, around five per cent of people with asthma have severe asthma. This type of asthma doesn’t respond as well to the usual asthma treatments. If your GP or asthma nurse thinks you may have severe asthma, you’ll be referred to a specialist who will help you find the right treatment. 

Can asthma be cured?

No. The treatment you've been prescribed for asthma helps manage the condition, but it doesn't actually cure it. If you take your medicine as prescribed, though, you can cut your risk of symptoms and of having an asthma attack. Everyone with asthma is given a reliever inhaler (usually blue), which relaxes the smooth muscles in your airways very quickly when you have sudden symptoms. You may also have been prescribed a preventer inhaler, which works away in the background to reduce inflammation and sensitivity in your airways, helping to prevent your airways reacting to triggers and causing symptoms. But these treatments don't actually cure asthma. We are the UK's leading asthma research charity. The research we support helps us understand more about asthma, its causes and treatments. Ultimately we're hoping to find a cure.

Will my asthma get worse?

If you have frequent asthma attacks, your airways can eventually become scarred and narrower. This is sometimes called 'airway remodelling'. If this happens, it means that less air can move through your airways and your symptoms may become worse and/or more frequent. You are more likely to have frequent asthma attacks if you smoke, if you don't take your medicines as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse and/or if you don't seek help as soon as you notice your symptoms getting worse. If you have severe asthma, you may also have more symptoms, which might raise your risk of airway remodelling.

The best way to prevent airway remodelling is to quit if you smoke, and to take your medicines as prescribed. And if you notice your symptoms are getting worse, book an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible so they can review your treatment.

The good news is that if you follow your written asthma action plan and take your treatment as prescribed, it's likely your asthma will remain stable or may improve. In fact, if you follow your written asthma action plan, you can expect to be free of symptoms. So you can work in partnership with your GP or asthma nurse to reduce your symptoms and get on with enjoying life.

My symptoms have been worse this week - does this mean my asthma's getting worse?

A one-off episode of symptoms doesn't necessarily mean your condition is getting worse over time. This can just happen if your airways have reacted to a particular trigger. Taking your medicines can stop your airways being so sensitive, so you have fewer symptoms.

Will I always need the same dose of medicine?

Not necessarily. You should have an asthma review each year, and your GP or asthma nurse will check you're on the right type of medicine, using the right device and taking the right dose to manage your symptoms. Sometimes, they might decide you need a higher dose or an add-on treatment (this is called 'stepping up'), but if your asthma's well managed, they may decide to reduce your dose or cut out one of your medicines ('stepping down'). You can read more about stepping up and stepping down here.

Can asthma change throughout life?

There are certain life stages that might affect your asthma. For example, some women find that being pregnant can make asthma either better or worse - talk to your GP or asthma nurse about managing your asthma during pregnancy. Other times of hormonal change, such as puberty and menopause might have an impact too. And some women find asthma can change throughout their monthly cycle.

There are lots of other life changes that might temporarily affect your asthma symptoms. Stress, whether that's caused by work or a relationship breakdown, can make symptoms worse. And a change in environment - for example, moving to a new house or job - can mean you're exposed to more of the triggers that make your asthma symptoms worse.

Having a written asthma action plan can help you pinpoint what triggers your asthma symptoms. You can then talk to your GP or asthma nurse about managing these triggers.

Last reviewed January 2016

Next review due January 2019