8 Things to Know About Treatment-Resistant Asthma

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN on April 30, 2021
  • Woman staring out window
    Is your asthma treatment-resistant?
    If you have asthma, your symptoms might be very hard to control. Unfortunately, some people develop a form of asthma that doesn’t respond well to medications usually used to treat the condition. Treatment-resistant asthma, also known as refractory asthma or severe asthma, can be frightening, and you might be concerned because your treatment isn’t working. There are many things you should know about treatment-resistant asthma, and your doctor can help if you have more specific questions or concerns.
  • woman on park bench with chest pain
    1. Treatment-resistant asthma doesn't respond well to medications.
    The main difference between treatment-resistant asthma and other forms of asthma is that it doesn’t respond well to asthma medications. With asthma, your airways can swell, narrow, and make extra mucus that makes it harder to breathe. Most people use medications to control their symptoms, but if you have treatment-resistant asthma, medications might not help. This can be especially dangerous, and it’s why you should seek help immediately if you feel an asthma flare-up starting.
  • Nurse Showing Patient Test Results On Digital Tablet
    2. Only some people develop treatment-resistant asthma.
    Up to 10% of people are diagnosed with treatment-resistant asthma. This serious condition is more common in people who already have frequent, severe asthma symptoms, or preexisting problems with the way air moves through their lungs. There is some evidence that treatment-resistant asthma is more common in people living in urban areas with more exposure to pollution. It’s also thought that people who don’t take their asthma medications like their doctor prescribes can develop treatment-resistant asthma over time.
  • Acid Reflux
    3. Treatment-resistant asthma can be dangerous.
    Most people with asthma use inhalers to deliver medications directly into their lungs–this helps to open their airways and makes it easier to breathe. If you have treatment-resistant asthma, these medications might not work for you. Since this type of asthma doesn’t respond well to medications, it can be fatal if you don’t see your doctor immediately when you feel symptoms starting. Be sure to see a physician right away if you start to have trouble breathing.
  • Ragweed plant
    4. Flare-ups can be caused by many factors.
    Just like with milder forms of asthma, treatment-resistant asthma flare-ups can be caused by many different factors. You might notice your asthma symptoms occur more frequently if you try to exercise, or if you’re exposed to pollen, pollution, or other airborne substances. It’s also possible for your asthma to be triggered by chemical fumes or gases in your workplace. If you can identify factors that seem to cause more flare-ups, you can better avoid them.
  • inhalers
    5. You might have to try many different medications.
    Many people with treatment-resistant asthma try several medications before finding what best controls their symptoms. You might have to use a combination of several types of medications that work together to provide the best symptom management. Many common medications for this type of asthma include those that work to improve your lung function, open your airways, and reduce inflammation in your lungs. At this point, there is no one medication that works best.
  • Blister packs of medicines and pills
    6. It can get expensive.
    Since your asthma might not respond well to medications, you may be faced with more frequent hospitalizations or other types of rescue therapies.  You’ll also probably have to try several different medications, including inhalers, oral medications, or intravenous (IV) medications–these costs can add up quickly. Even though you might have to pay a lot out of pocket, it’s still important to follow your treatments exactly as your doctor prescribes to help prevent your asthma from getting worse.
  • Man posed
    7. It’s a life-long condition.
    Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for asthma. The goals of your treatment should focus on preventing as many of your symptoms as possible, or reducing the seriousness of the symptoms you have. In partnering with your doctor and healthcare team, it might be possible to reduce the number of medications you have to take and help you maintain good lung function. Achieving the best control of your asthma might be a life-long effort, but it’s possible.
  • smiling-confidant-woman
    8. There’s still hope.
    There’s still hope for finding newer, more effective ways of managing treatment-resistant asthma. Researchers are exploring new classes of drugs and studying drugs that have previously been used for other medical conditions, like high blood pressure in the lungs, to provide effective treatments for people just like you. And new medications that treat certain subtypes of severe asthma are coming to the market. There might not be a cure, but it’s still possible to find better ways of managing your symptoms so that you can life a fuller, healthier life.
8 Things to Know About Treatment-Resistant Asthma

About The Author

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN began writing professionally in 2016. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialties, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice. With over nine years of clinical practice experience, Sarah has worked with clients including Healthgrades, Mayo Clinic, Aha Media Group, Wolters Kluwer, and UVA Cancer Center.
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  2. Asthma. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/basics/definition/con-20026992
  3. Acute Asthma. World Allergy Organization. http://www.worldallergy.org/professional/allergic_diseases_center/asthma/
  4. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/signs
  5. How Is Asthma Treated and Controlled? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/treatment
  6. Wener RR, Bel EH. Severe Refractory Asthma: An Update. Eur Respir Rev. 2013 Sep 1;22(129):227-35. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23997049
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Last Review Date: 2021 Apr 30
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