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Types of Asthma

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2021

Asthma is a complex condition that affects people in different ways. Certain patterns of body processes and symptoms help us define different types of asthma.

All types of asthma show airway inflammation. Many types have overlapping symptoms. But asthma types have key other differences, such as triggers. Identifying your type of asthma can help doctors choose the best possible treatments. It can also help you find lifestyle changes that reduce symptoms.

How are asthma types defined?

Asthma is a variable condition with differences in severity, treatment responses, and triggers. Some experts say asthma is a single condition that presents in different ways. Other experts say different types of asthma are separate diseases that cause common symptoms.1

Ongoing research has begun to classify these types of asthma. Some of the ways experts define asthma types include:1

  • Medical history and physical exam
  • Results of lung function tests
  • Age symptoms began
  • Risk factors and triggers
  • Genetics
  • Types of cells involved in inflammation
  • Results of allergy tests
  • Tissue and lung features
  • Response to medicines tried in the past

What are some types of asthma?

There are many terms used to define asthma types. Some types may have overlapping symptoms and treatments. The most common types follow below.

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Allergic asthma

Allergic asthma is the most common type of asthma. Symptoms are triggered by certain allergens, such as pet dander or dust mites. It usually starts during childhood and is linked to family history of allergic conditions. Inhaled corticosteroids are the standard treatment. Treatment may also include allergy drugs or reducing exposure to allergens.2,3

Non-allergic asthma

This type of asthma is not linked to allergies. Symptoms may be triggered by extreme weather, viral infections, or stress. Treatment is the same as for allergic asthma.2,3

Aspirin-induced asthma

Aspirin-induced asthma is most common in adults. Symptoms of asthma start after taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. Symptoms also include sinus infection and nasal polyps. Treatment includes standard asthma drugs or aspirin desensitization.1

Allergic bronchopulmonary mycosis

Allergic bronchopulmonary mycosis is an allergic reaction to a certain fungus found in soil. Most people encounter the fungus but do not have an allergic reaction. Some people with asthma and other conditions have a reaction that damages the airways.1

Adult-onset asthma

Some people show symptoms of asthma for the first time as an adult. These cases are usually non-allergic and need higher doses of inhaled corticosteroids.2,3

Exercise-induced asthma

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma develop when airways narrow because of physical activity. It happens when the airways lose heat or water during exercise. Treatment includes standard inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators. Altering exercise routines may also help reduce symptoms.3

Eosinophilic asthma

Eosinophilic asthma is more severe and harder to manage. People with eosinophilic asthma have high levels of a type of white blood cell called an eosinophil. Eosinophils help fight parasitic infections and are linked to allergies but can cause inflammation when present in high levels.4

Cough-variant asthma

People with other types of asthma have a mucus-producing cough alongside other symptoms. The only symptom of cough-variant asthma is a dry and unproductive cough. This type of asthma may progress to classic asthma if left untreated.2,5

Job-related asthma

Occupational asthma is caused or triggered by work-related exposures. This can include chemical fumes, dust, or other irritants in the air at work. Workers with a high risk of workplace asthma include bakers, farmers, and metal workers. Treatment includes drugs and lifestyle changes.2,3

Nocturnal asthma

Symptoms of nocturnal asthma get worse at night. Certain aspects of sleep or other triggers may cause symptoms to worsen in the evening. Treatment can help reduce the impact on sleep and mental performance.2