What is Intrinsic Asthma?

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  • Written By: C. Ausbrooks
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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Intrinsic asthma, also known as non-allergic asthma, is caused by environmental factors instead of exposure to allergens. The condition results in airway constriction and inflammation similar to allergic asthma, and can also be treated with medication. Symptoms of this type of asthma, however, are not associated with allergic reactions. Intrinsic asthma is more common in adults than in children, although it can occur at any age.

Common causes of intrinsic asthma include long-term exposure to nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide expelled from the combustion of car engines, trains and buses, and even power stations. In most cases, these byproducts are emitted into the open air where they are of little significance. If the vehicles are left idling in closed stations, however, the fumes can cause asthma when an individual is exposed to them regularly and for long periods.

Tobacco smoke, cooking gas in poorly ventilated kitchens, and household pollutants may also cause intrinsic asthma. Fiberboard that has been glued with adhesive containing formaldehyde, synthetic fibers in carpets, air fresheners, perfumes and commercial cleaning products have the potential to irritate the airways and cause asthma symptoms. In rare cases, intrinsic asthma may be caused by stress, anxiety, hyperventilation or exercise.


Intrinsic asthma symptoms are similar to those of allergic asthma. Common symptoms include coughing and wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness and pressure in the chest, and rapid or difficult breathing. In appearance, an episode seems exactly like an allergic asthma attack, but the immune system does not cause the reaction. Symptoms may also worsen after exercise and exposure to cold or dry air.

There is no cure for this type of asthma, but identifying and eliminating triggers can reduce the frequency of attacks and prevent the development of symptoms. Prescription medications such as asthma inhalers, bronchodilators and corticosteriods are useful for managing symptoms. Some patients use unproven alternative therapies to treat intrinsic asthma symptoms such as acupuncture, massage, hypnosis, herbs and even chiropractic manipulation. A qualified physician should always be consulted before trying alternative remedies to treat serious medical conditions such as asthma.

If left untreated, intrinsic asthma can cause severe breathing difficulty and permanent damage to the airways. Hospitalization, asphyxia and death are rare complications, but they can occur in extreme cases if the condition is not properly managed. In most cases, intrinsic asthma is easily controlled. With a fast diagnosis and treatment, the patient can live a long, healthy life with minimal interference.


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Post 3

Hyperventilation causes intrinsic asthma? How? Isn't hyperventilation a result of asthma sometimes?

The only cause I can think of is an anxiety attack, which can cause hyperventilation and difficulty breathing. Anxiety can trigger asthma attacks in chronic sufferers too.

Post 2

Cold air really makes asthma worse. It can actually encourage a respiratory infection to cause bronchitis and asthma.

I had a bad upper respiratory infection last year. Meanwhile I had to work outdoors before completely recovering. When I went to the doctor complaining of wheezing and difficulty breathing, he diagnosed me with bronchitis and asthma and ordered me to rest and stay indoors. The asthma went away after my recovery but I was home for a long time.

Post 1

My intrinsic asthma is mostly triggered by cigarette smoke and fragrance. I have sensitivity to especially the perfumes used in cleaning products. I've had asthma attacks in places that have just been cleaned because of these perfumes.

Cigarette smoke is another one I have no tolerance to. In spring and summer, I can't open my window because my neighbor insists on smoking on his balcony practically all day. I've asked him to stop but he doesn't care. If I open the windows, his cigarette smoke enters into my bedroom and I start coughing and wheezing. Not to mention the increased risk of cancer from second hand smoke. I'm not looking forward to spring.

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