Asthma is a common medical condition affecting 300 million people worldwide. Airway inflammation, smooth muscle bronchoconstriction leading to airflow obstruction, and mucous hypersecretion are clinical hallmarks of asthma. The NHLBI Expert Panel Report 3 recommends inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) for patients with moderate to severe persistent asthma. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) target gene transcription through their interactions with the glucocorticoid (GC) receptor (GR) at the glucocorticoid response element (GRE). The GC/GR complex enhances anti-inflammatory but inhibits pro-inflammatory mediator production. Classically, asthma has been described as a Th2-associated eosinophil-predominant disease, but recently alternative models have been described including a Th17-mediated neutrophil-predominant phenotype resulting in patients with more severe disease who may be less responsive to steroids. Additional mechanisms of steroid resistance include increased activity of GR phosphorylating kinases which modify the interactions of GR with transcription factors to inhibit the ability of GR to bind with GRE, leading to an increase in pro-inflammatory gene transcription. Oxidative stress also affects the balance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory gene transcription through the modification of transcription factors and cofactors (such as PI3K) leading to the inhibition of histone deacetylase 2. Continued investigations into the mechanisms behind glucocorticoid resistance will lead to novel treatments that improve control of severe refractory asthma. © 2014 The Authors. Allergy Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.