Asthma: Prognosis and Life Expectancy

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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A chronic lung condition, asthma develops when your air passages narrow in size, allowing less air into your lungs, and those passages become inflamed. The result is wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma ranges from mild to severe and affects both children and adults. Your asthma prognosis is unique based on your individual case and medical history. Learn about the factors that affect asthma life expectancy, including for cardiac asthma and eosinophilic asthma, and whether childhood asthma goes away as an adult with treatment.

Asthma life expectancy is on the rise. 

Of the few long-term population studies of asthma life expectancy, asthma itself, in people without a smoking history or other lung disease, does not appear to significantly shorten life expectancy when compared to the general population. However, asthmatics with reduced lung function or who develop asthma later in life have a poorer prognosis. A European study showed that asthma in an otherwise healthy population shortened life expectancy by 3 years, similar to the effect of smoking. The study also looked at COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which shortened life expectancy by 10 years. It was shorter still with late-onset asthma combined with COPD.

With early diagnosis, treatment, and trigger management, asthma deaths have decreased from 15 per million in 2001 to 10 per million in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children and young adults are less likely to die from asthma than adults, who are almost five times more likely than children to die from asthma. Adults age 65 and older have the highest asthma death rate, while females are more likely to die from asthma than males. Non-Hispanic Blacks also saw a high asthma death rate, two to three times more than other race groups.

Smoking could reduce your asthma life expectancy. 

Because smoking harms your respiratory system, it negatively impacts asthma life expectancy. People with asthma already suffer from narrowed and inflamed airways, and tobacco smoke further irritates the airways by damaging the cilia that remove the dust and mucus from the airways. Even inhaling secondhand smoke could lead to decreased lung function and increased airway inflammation, which could spur an asthma attack. Quitting smoking or not allowing anyone to smoke in your home, car or around you helps reduce your exposure to nicotine and other substances in tobacco smoke that could trigger an asthma attack.

Reducing asthma attacks and managing triggers is essential to improving asthma survival.

Managing your asthma triggers could improve your asthma prognosis and survival by preventing or reducing the severity of an asthma attack. These triggers include dust mites, outdoor air pollution, pet dander, mold, pollen, and breathing in cold, dry air. To keep these triggers at bay, it’s important to wash your bedding weekly, stay inside whenever possible if outdoor air pollution or pollen is prevalent, and keep your home clean. Installing a HEPA filter on your HVAC system can be helpful, as can a humidifier to prevent dry air.

Asthma attacks (exacerbations) can lead to reduced lung function, which is associated with higher mortality. Daily asthma medications to prevent attacks and preserve lung function improves survival.

Your lifestyle choices could affect your asthma prognosis. 

Making good lifestyle choices goes a long way in living a long, healthy life, and that’s true for those living with asthma too. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce stress on your respiratory system, while exercise strengthens your respiratory system. However, it’s important to talk with your doctor to determine what diet and exercise routine is right for you. Getting a flu shot each year is also important because it reduces your likelihood of getting the flu, which could stress your respiratory system, leading to an asthma attack.

Eosinophilic asthma, like regular asthma, can be managed for a long, healthy life.

A subtype of asthma, eosinophilic asthma is more severe than regular asthma because it involves the entire respiratory tract in airflow obstruction. In addition, mucus coughed up contains more eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) that could lead to more severe asthma attacks. However, like asthma, eosinophilic asthma can be managed with treatment so you can live a long, healthy life. Minimizing triggers and seeing your doctor regularly are key components in treatment and management to help prevent or reduce the severity of asthma attacks.

Cardiac asthma is not the same as asthma. 

Although they share a name, cardiac asthma is not a type of asthma. Asthma is caused by the narrowing and inflammation of the airways in the lungs, while cardiac asthma is coughing or wheezing that occurs due to left-sided heart failure. Treatments for cardiac asthma typically are the same as those for heart failure. Cardiac asthma prognosis depends on several factors, including what stage your heart failure is in, your diet, and lifestyle elements, such as exercise routine and tobacco and alcohol use. The mortality rate for heart failure at one year is 22% and at five years is 43%.

Childhood asthma may improve, but never truly goes away. 

As children with asthma grow up, their asthma stays with them. While they may experience fewer asthma symptoms, the possibility of an asthma attack remains. Continued treatments, such as long-term control medications (inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, theophylline and others) and rescue medications (such as inhalers with albuterol and levalbuterol) can help keep asthma under control. Lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, exercising regularly, reducing pet dander, and regular cleaning can also help prevent asthma attacks.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 15
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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