Can Asthma Damage Your Lungs?

inflammation of the lungs
Asthma can cause irreversible damage to your lungs if the condition is not controlled well

Asthma can cause irreversible damage to your lungs if the condition is not controlled well. Asthma inflames the inner lining of the respiratory tubes and tightens the smooth muscles surrounding the airways, resulting in narrowed airways and reduced air supply to lungs.

Persistent inflammation in the bronchial passage can damage the mucus membrane in the airways and destroy their ability to filter air pollutants which can affect the lungs. Bronchial muscle spasms (bronchospasms) can narrow the airways, and progressively compromise lung function.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which the respiratory tract (trachea and bronchial tubes) overreacts to common things in the environment one is exposed to on a daily basis. An acute asthma attack produces the following reactions in the lung’s airways, obstructing free air flow:

  • The mucus membrane gets inflamed, swells up and produces excessive mucus that is thick and difficult to expel.
  • The smooth muscles around the airway tighten, causing bronchospasms which constrict the airway.

Symptoms of asthma include:

What are the long-term effects of asthma?

In the long term, chronic inflammation and bronchospasms from asthma can make structural changes in the airway (airway remodeling) causing it to become permanently narrowed. The airway tubes become scarred and thickened, and the bronchial muscles get enlarged, leading to reduced lung function and breathing difficulties.

Asthma increases the risk for bronchial infections. Asthma can also affect sleep quality and lead to sleep deprivation. It can affect the ability to take part in exercise and sports, which can in turn, potentially lead to conditions such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

Severe asthma increases the risk for respiratory failure. Though rare, an acute asthma attack can diminish oxygen supply to the body, cause weakness and fatigue, and can sometimes even lead to death.

Does asthma get worse as you age?

With age, lungs become less elastic, chest walls more rigid and respiratory muscles less efficient, which can aggravate asthma symptoms. Older people may not respond very well to inhaled corticosteroids used to treat asthma, due to physiological changes that come with age.

Older people often have other coexisting conditions (comorbidities) which can complicate diagnosis and treatment of asthma. The risk for morbidity and mortality typically increases with age.

Can asthma be cured?

Asthma is chronic and incurable, but can be controlled well with medications and lifestyle changes to avoid asthma triggers. With appropriate treatment, it is possible to reduce inflammation, relieve bronchospasms and prevent permanent damage to the airways and lungs.

Treatment can reduce the intensity and frequency of asthma attacks sufficiently for most people to live a normal and fulfilling life, including elite athletes who undertake intense physical activity. 


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What happens if asthma is left untreated?

Untreated asthma can get progressively worse, lead to long-term complications and cause avoidable damage to the respiratory system. Some types of childhood asthma do seem to improve on their own. Approximately 50% of children grow out of asthma, but it is impossible to predict who might outgrow and who might not, so it is best to treat asthma at the earliest signs.

Often asthma patients get used to mild breathing difficulties and excess mucus, treat only acute episodes and ignore the condition otherwise. Persistent asthma can worsen over time if not properly treated with maintenance medications, and affect overall health and quality of life.

Asthma is a chronic disease that flares up in acute episodes with triggers and stays dormant at other times. Absence of overt symptoms does not mean that the disease has gone away, and inflammation can persist causing lasting damage that is not immediately felt. Early and aggressive treatment may be the best solution to prevent irreversible damage to the lungs. Discuss with your doctor what you should do to give yourself early and aggressive treatments.

How can you prevent permanent damage to lungs from asthma?

It is not possible to entirely prevent asthma attacks, but you can protect your lungs from damage by controlling the disease well. Following are some steps you can follow to manage asthma and prevent lung damage.

  • Try to identify and avoid your triggers for asthma attacks.
  • Avoid all types of smoking (cigarettes, cigars, and vaping, for example) and second-hand smoke.
  • Get flu and pneumonia vaccinations and protect against infections.
  • Stay active and exercise.
  • Follow your treatment plan diligently. Do not skip medications because you don’t have symptoms.
  • Never stop or change your medication without checking with your doctor.
  • Learn to identify early symptoms of an attack and treat immediately.
  • Have your lungs regularly checked by the doctor and learn to monitor your lung function with a home peak airflow meter.
  • Seek medical help promptly if you are unable to keep the condition under control.