Asthma treatment goals focus on disease control rather than remission as a therapeutic aim. This is in contrast to diseases where remission is frequently discussed and has well-defined criteria. In this review, we consider the similarities and differences between remission in asthma and another chronic inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis, where new therapies have made remission a realistic treatment goal. Clinical remission of asthma is often defined as prolonged absence of asthma symptoms without requirement for medication while others insist on the demonstration of normal lung function and airway responsiveness. Even in those who develop a symptomatic remission of asthma, persistent physiological abnormalities and airway inflammation are common. There is a clear need to develop a precise, internationally accepted, definition of asthma remission that can be used as a therapeutic endpoint in studies of new asthma treatments. Spontaneous remission of asthma symptoms is relatively common, especially during adolescence. It is more likely in males, those with mild symptoms and normal lung function and in those who quit smoking, and may be linked to normalisation of immune function. Remission is less likely in severe asthma, atopy, eosinophilia, airflow obstruction, continued smoking and weight gain. Studies of spontaneous remissions may provide insight into how remission might be induced with therapy. Remission is not identical to cure, there remains a risk of subsequent symptomatic relapse of asthma and there is little evidence that current asthma treatments can induce remission. Long-term remission should be regarded as the next therapeutic frontier in asthma management.
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