Different Types of Asthma - Overview

What are the different types of asthma?

On this page, the various types are discussed.


Asthma triggered by allergies (an external source irritant) (also called allergic or atopic asthma), extrinsic asthma attacks can be clearly linked to the body’s response to something inhaled, or rarely, ingested. The substances to which the person experiences a reaction are called allergens (also called antigens), and enter the body as foreign particles.

The most common allergens include plant pollen, mold, dander, and dust mites. The asthmatic’s immune system overreacts to these otherwise harmless particles, forming antibodies which would normally be created to fight bacteria and viruses. The body’s mast cells release the antibodies as well as other chemicals and an asthma attack occurs.

Among the different types of asthma, most asthma with childhood onset tends to be extrinsic. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 90 percent of asthmatic children under the age of 16 have allergies.

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This type of asthma, discovered earlier in the century, also causes an immediate skin reaction (called an atopic skin reaction) if the allergens should be injected under skin. The skin displays marked swelling or redness, an inflammation similar to the reaction that would go on in the airways.

This type of asthma has been found to be often inherited and sufferers may also have conditions like hay fever, hives, eczema, and so forth. Many people use inhaled steroids to manage their extrinsic asthma, as the substance acts to suppress the immune system response.


The next among the different types of asthma is intrinsic asthma, which develops over the age of 30. Also called non-allergic asthma, it tends to be triggered by respiratory infections, stress, chemical irritants, or air pollutants - really anything but an allergy.

In this type of reaction, the body does not produce antibodies, and substances that produce an allergic reaction on the skin may not necessarily cause an asthma attack. Often, this type of asthma can be difficult to treat because the exact triggers have not yet been defined, and avoiding them may be impossible.


Next up among the different types of asthma is nocturnal asthma. Sufferers of nocturnal asthma find that they have the most difficulty at night, between the hours of 2 and 4a.m, when symptoms worsen.

Asthmatics with this type find that they can fall asleep quickly, but wake up during specified periods of the night wheezing and coughing, at which point they take reliever medication, wait for symptoms to subside, and return to sleep.

There can be overlap between the different types of asthma - both people with intrinsic and extrinsic asthma can have episodes of nocturnal asthma, which often disrupts sleep patterns and makes functioning during waking hours more difficult.

Theories as to why attacks can be more prevalent at night for some people include the fact that mucous, which can build up overnight in asthmatic lungs, cannot drain properly when one is lying down. Another explanation holds that nocturnal episodes are the delayed reaction to exposure to an irritant several hours prior.


Another of the different types of asthma is seasonal asthma. Though the specific season may vary from person to person, this type of asthma occurs intermittently at certain designated times of the year. Seasonal asthma has been linked to allergic asthma, and deaths from asthma attacks appear to be 15 percent higher during the summer than at other times during the year.


Next on the list of the different types of asthma is exercise-induced asthma. As its name suggests, some people experience asthma attacks during exercise.

Some research now also demonstrates that most asthmatics, regardless of classification, can experience exercise-induced asthma if the intensity of the exercise is rigorous enough. Therefore, people suffering from asthma should be cautioned when performing exercise. They should be aware that broncho-spasms may be triggered due to the loss of heat and water from the lungs during exercise; this is because of rapid inhalation of cooler and drier air than that present in the lungs.

Exercising outdoors in winter can especially aggravate symptoms. Exercise induced asthma tends to reach a peak 5 to 10 minutes after vigorous exercises, and disappears between 20 to 60 minutes after activity has stopped.

Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma is another of the different types of asthma. This type of asthma may be linked directly to the nature of one’s occupation, and develops within several months after starting the new employment position.

Also called industrial asthma, sufferers notice that their asthma improves when away on vacation or after leaving the position. Common irritants include chemical fumes, sawdust, animal dander, mold, or other similar factors.

Recent studies show that as many as 26% of adult onset asthma may be traced back to workplace conditions, while occupational asthma remains one of the most frequently reported respiratory diseases among patients visiting occupational medical clinics.

Silent asthma

Silent asthma, the term given to a variety of asthma which gives little warning of an impending attack, can often be severe and / or life threatening.

Cough variant asthma

In this type of asthma, the attacks include a persistent and irritating cough.


Another of the different types of asthma is intermittent asthma. A mild intermittent diagnosis may be reached, according to the National Guideline for Asthma Management, if the following factors apply: the frequency of symptoms does not exceed 2 days per week, with the frequency of nighttime awakening not exceeding 2 times per month. The use of a quick-relief inhaler should not exceed 2 days per week, and in general the asthma does not interfere with daily activities. In addition, peak flow readings should be normal between attacks, and the use of oral steroids should not exceed once per year.


The last of the different types of asthma to be discussed is chronic asthma. People with chronic asthma have symptoms for long stretches of time, more than five days per month for more than three months, and more than half of the days in any one month.

People affected by chronic asthma have long periods in which breathing becomes difficult, and their lungs do not fully recuperate between attacks. Chronic asthma can itself be divided into several categories in order to help health care practitioners devise sound treatment plans, as put together by the National Asthma Education and Prevention Center (1997): milder intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent, and severe persistent.

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