What Is Intermittent Asthma?

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Intermittent asthma, also called mild intermittent asthma, is the least severe asthma classification. It's also the most common. People who have it typically need to use a rescue inhaler less often than twice a week and have nighttime symptoms less often than twice a month.

Properly managing intermittent asthma reduces your risk of eventually developing a more severe form. While you need treatment, you'll probably require less than someone with more severe asthma.

Woman with inhaler
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Symptoms of Intermittent Asthma

The general symptoms of asthma include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing

The classifications of asthma are based on the severity of these symptoms. Your asthma is considered intermittent if you:

  • Need a rescue inhaler twice a week or less
  • Have nighttime symptoms twice a month or less
  • Can take part in normal activity without interference from symptoms
  • Don't have symptoms between asthma attacks
  • Have normal lung function outside of asthma attacks

How your asthma is classified may change over time. That's especially true when asthma develops in early childhood.

Severe asthma attacks are possible in any asthma classification—even intermittent asthma.

Causes

The causes of asthma aren't fully understood. However, they appear to be the same regardless of type and severity. It's not known why some people have only intermittent asthma while others develop more severe forms.

Factors that play a role in causing asthma include:

  • Genetics
  • Allergies
  • Childhood viral respiratory infection
  • Occupational exposure to certain chemicals and types of dust

Additional things that can increase the risk of developing asthma include:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • A mother who smoked during pregnancy
  • Obesity

Proper treatment of intermittent asthma can keep it from becoming more severe.

Diagnosis

Intermittent asthma is diagnosed the same way as more severe forms. If you go to the doctor with symptoms that could point to asthma, you can expect:

  • Questions about symptoms, severity, possible triggers, and family history
  • A physical exam that will include listening to your lungs and checking for nasal inflammation
  • Tests, such as spirometry, to gauge the function and behavior of your lungs and airways (which should be normal with intermittent asthma)
  • Blood tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms

Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray, but this is uncommon, especially with intermittent asthma. If you happen to have symptoms during your exam, the doctor may also check to see if they respond to asthma medications.

Since it's possible for asthma to become more severe with time, it is possible for your diagnosis to change down the line, making regular check-ups essential.

Treatment

Asthma is different for every person, and so is managing it. The ultimate goal is to keep your asthma under control and ensure that it interferes with your life as little as possible.

Your doctor will work with you to develop a personalized asthma action plan. This involves monitoring symptoms (what you experience, how severe, how often), as well as recognizing early warning signs of an attack and identifying asthma triggers. Appropriate steps to take based on your symptoms are outlined.

Intermittent asthma doesn't require daily asthma controller medication.

Instead, your doctor will typically prescribe a quick-relief bronchodilator like an albuterol inhaler. Bronchodilators open up your airways and are only used as needed (up to a maximum of four times in a 24-hour period).

You should always carry your rescue inhaler with you, even though you may not need it often. A severe attack may seem unlikely, but it is possible.

You may find that your asthma gets more severe over the years. If you find you need to use your inhaler more than twice a week or that you're waking up with asthma symptoms more often than twice a month, see your doctor. As asthma severity changes, so should treatment.

Prognosis

Having mild asthma with intermittent symptoms makes you more likely to see significant improvement or a period of remission, especially if you:

  • Are male
  • Were diagnosed later in childhood
  • Have never had allergy-related diseases such as eczema (atopic dermatitis)

When asthma develops in a child, it's possible they'll eventually "outgrow" it. About half of kids with asthma either dramatically improve or have symptoms disappear entirely. (However, it's possible that symptoms will return at some point.)

But when it develops during adulthood, asthma rarely goes away, though the severity may change over time (for better or for worse). Proper treatment can help you manage asthma progression and allow you to live a full life with minimal symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

If you have symptoms that could indicate intermittent asthma, or if your asthma symptoms appear to grow more severe, be sure to see a doctor. No matter how mild, asthma is a condition to be taken seriously.

Learn as much as you can about what triggers your asthma, and always have your rescue inhaler handy.

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Article Sources
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