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Everything You Need to Know About Intermittent Asthma

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What is intermittent asthma?

Intermittent asthma is a condition where asthma symptoms occur no more than two days a week with nighttime asthma flare-ups occurring no more than twice a month.

Doctors may also refer to intermittent asthma as “mild intermittent asthma.” Even though intermittent asthma doesn’t cause symptoms as frequently as other asthma types, it still requires treatment.

Intermittent asthma symptoms and classification

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Asthma is a condition that causes irritation and inflammation in a person’s airways. This irritation can make the airways tighten and narrow, making it harder to breathe. People with asthma have symptoms that include:

  • chest tightness or squeezing
  • coughing
  • trouble catching one’s breath
  • wheezing, which can sound like a whistling or squeaking noise in the lungs

While there are lots of ways to classify asthma, one way doctors do this is by how often asthma affects a person and to what degree their asthma impacts their daily activities.

In the case of intermittent asthma, a person has asthma symptoms no more than two days a week. Sometimes, they may have a coughing or wheezing episode associated with asthma, but this usually doesn’t happen more than twice a month.

Severe asthma types can limit daily activities. People may have trouble sleeping because they’re coughing so much or are short of breath. Intermittent asthma can be troublesome, but doesn’t usually impair a person’s lung function or keep them from doing the things they enjoy. This doesn’t mean that treatments can’t help them during flare-ups.

Intermittent asthma treatment

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The main goal for treating intermittent asthma is to reduce the severity of an asthma flare-up or attack. Doctors usually prescribe a short-acting inhaler to accomplish this. One example is a short-acting beta-2 agonist, such as an albuterol (Ventolin HFA) inhaler.

When the medicine is inhaled, the beta-2 agonists activate receptors in the lungs that tell the airways to widen. This overcomes the narrowing that causes asthma symptoms like trouble breathing and wheezing. These medications work in about five minutes, and last between three and six hours.

The following steps can help you most effectively use an inhaler:

  • “Prime” the inhaler with medication the first time you use it. Take the cap off its mouthpiece and shake. While holding away from your face, spray the inhaler once by pushing down on the top. Shake and repeat the process three more times. This ensures when you use it, medicine will come out and not just air. If you use your inhaler every two weeks, you shouldn’t have to prime it every time you use it.
  • Shake your inhaler and take the mouthpiece off. Examine the inhaler to make sure it appears clean and free of debris before using.
  • Inhale and exhale as deeply as you can.
  • Place the inhaler in your mouth and inhale deeply and slowly as you press the top of the canister down. This will make the medication and air go into your lungs.
  • Remove the inhaler and close your mouth. Hold your breath for no more than 10 seconds.
  • Take a long, slow deep breath out.
  • Repeat these steps if your doctor has recommended using two sprays each time.

Short-acting inhalers treat asthma symptoms, but they don’t address asthma’s underlying causes. However, a doctor won’t usually prescribe other medications unless you’re using a rescue inhaler more than two times a week.

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In addition to medicines like inhalers, you can also take steps to make it less likely an asthma flare-up will occur. People with asthma usually have triggers or irritants they breathe in and make their asthma worse. If a you can avoid these, you’ll be less likely to have intermittent asthma flare-ups.

Examples of common asthma triggers include:

  • pet dander
  • cold air
  • respiratory infections
  • pollen, such as from grasses, trees, or weeds
  • smoke
  • strong smells

Avoiding these triggers as much as possible, such as staying indoors when pollen counts are high, can help to reduce asthma flare-ups.

Types of asthma

If you have intermittent asthma and start having symptoms more than two days a week or two nights a month, asthma has progressed to “persistent asthma.” Doctors will usually classify persistent asthma into the following three categories:

  • Mild persistent asthma. Symptoms occur more than twice a week, but less frequently than once a day. Asthma flare-ups may affect your ability to be active. At night, asthma may flare up more than twice a month, but no more than once a week. People with mild persistent asthma have lung function tests that reveal 80 percent function or greater.
  • Moderate persistent asthma. Expect daily symptoms, with flare-ups that can last several days. You may also cough and wheeze, which affects sleep and regular activities. The lung function of a person with moderate persistent asthma is at 60 to 80 percent of average.
  • Severe persistent asthma. This category involves daily symptoms that severely impact physical activity and sleep. Lung function is at 60 percent or less. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, severe asthma is the least common asthma type.
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A doctor will take into consideration a person’s asthma type when prescribing a combination of medications.


Intermittent asthma can be a bothersome condition that is usually treated with inhaled beta-2 agonists. If you have asthma symptoms more often or the inhaler isn’t helping, you should talk to a doctor.

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