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What is considered severe asthma?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on Dec 23, 2021.

Official answer


Severe asthma is when you require medium to high-dose inhaled corticosteroids combined with other longer-acting medications. Severe asthma can also be defined as having a peak expiratory flow rate (PEF or PEFR) less than 50% of your personal best. This shows severe narrowing of your large airways and is considered a medical emergency and you should get help right away. Your symptoms may include coughing, being very short of breath, wheezing while breathing in and out, or retractions (this is when you can see the muscles between the ribs working hard to keep you breathing). Walking and talking may also be difficult.

  • Peak Flow Measurement. John Hopkins Medicine. 2021.
  • Camargo C, Rachelefsky, Schatz M. Managing Asthma Exacerbations in the Emergency Department. Summary of the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3 Guidelines for the Management of Asthma Exacerbations. Department of Emergency Medicine and Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, Department of Medicine,The%20exacerbation%20severity%20determines%20treatment.

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