Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs and respiratory system. It causes inflammation of the airways, which can make it hard to breathe.

Asthma can present at any age. Symptoms can sometimes appear in infancy, while other people do not develop the condition until adulthood.

The potential triggers of asthma can vary from person to person. Some people get asthma symptoms after having a cold or respiratory illness. The condition can also develop after exposure to certain chemicals or substances.

Asthma can vary in its severity too. Some people experience only mild symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing when they exercise. Others have more severe symptoms that can cause difficulty breathing, lead to frequent hospitalizations, and potentially even be life-threatening.

An asthma attack occurs when a person’s asthma symptoms suddenly worsen.

Asthma can cause severe complications, particularly for those who have difficulty managing the condition. In this article, we look at both medical and lifestyle complications of asthma.

Medical complications

MAn with flu sitting under blanket coughing and drinking tea because of asthma complications.
The flu can cause severe reactions in people with asthma.

Asthma complications can occur as a result of certain health conditions or other medical factors, including:

  • Side effects of medications: Doctors often prescribe corticosteroids for asthma. The inhaled forms of these medications have few side effects. However, in oral form, they can cause side effects, such as weight gain, indigestion, insomnia, fatigue, changes in eyesight, nausea, and headaches.
  • The flu: People with asthma can experience severe reactions to the flu. Asthma causes the airways to become swollen and inflamed, and an infection, such as the flu, can make this worse. The flu can also trigger asthma attacks, respiratory failure, and other lung infections, such as pneumonia.
  • Chronic inflammation: Chronic inflammation in the airways can cause airway remodeling, which is a change in the structures in the airways, such as the blood vessels, epithelial tissue, glands, and muscles. The walls of the airways become thicker and less elastic, which can worsen narrowing and swelling.
  • Respiratory failure: If a person does not get treatment for a severe asthma attack or does not respond to treatment, this can be very dangerous. The airways can become so inflamed that air is unable to pass into the lungs, causing respiratory failure and even death without emergency care.

Lifestyle complications

The lifestyle complications of asthma can adversely affect a person’s quality of life, causing:

  • Sleep difficulties: Certain asthma medications can cause insomnia. Also, some people with asthma experience more symptoms at night, which may make sleep difficult. Lack of sleep can affect a person in many different ways, often causing problems with focus and attention as well as potentially making it challenging to drive safely.
  • Lack of physical activity: Some people with asthma find it difficult to exercise or be active because they are worried about triggering an asthma attack. However, a lack of exercise can increase a person’s risk of other medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. A person with asthma can almost always exercise safely if they manage their asthma well.
  • Fatigue: Poor-quality sleep can lead to daytime tiredness and potentially to fatigue. Being tired can make it more difficult to complete tasks, focus at work or school, and concentrate on other life activities.

Differences between adults and children

Adults and children share many of the same asthma triggers, including dust mites and other environmental allergens, such as pollution and smoke. However, children are more likely than adults to experience an asthma attack in response to the common cold.

Adults tend to have symptoms that require more regular treatment, although some adults only experience exercise-induced asthma. If exercise triggers asthma symptoms in a child, this can indicate that they are finding it difficult to keep their symptoms under control. A doctor may be able to adjust their medication accordingly or recommend other management techniques.

Both adults and children may experience complications that affect their lifestyle and everyday activities. For example, children might fall behind at school because they miss more lessons than other children. Adults are more likely to take sick leave from work and may suffer from depression and fatigue.

When to see a doctor

A person with asthma can speak to their doctor about controlling symptoms.
A person with asthma can speak to a doctor about controlling their symptoms.

The medical complications of asthma can be quite severe, especially if a person does not have their condition under control.

Asthma is under control if the medication that a person is taking prevents or minimizes the symptoms. When this is the case, it should mean that:

  • the condition does not cause someone to miss school or work
  • symptoms do not prevent a person from being active or doing exercise
  • a person makes minimal visits to the emergency room or requires little urgent care
  • a person uses an emergency inhaler less than twice a week
  • symptoms do not keep someone awake at night more than twice a month

People who do experience any of these issues should see their doctor. The doctor might suggest a change in medication, which may control asthma symptoms more effectively.

It is also important to seek emergency care if a prescribed asthma medication, such as an emergency or rescue inhaler, does not reduce the symptoms of an asthma attack. Call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room if someone with asthma loses consciousness or is unable to breathe.


Asthma is a potentially severe condition that can cause several medical and lifestyle complications. Staying in touch with the doctor is important, especially if medications or lifestyle changes are insufficient to control the symptoms. Changes to a person’s medication regimen can improve their lifestyle and help reduce the risk of complications.