signs and symptoms of asthma

Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma is often associated with shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. In fact, to some, it has become a default label for anything connected with breathing difficulties. However, breathing problems are also symptoms of sleep apnea, post nasal drip, acid reflux, allergies, anxiety attack, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). While asthma is majorly about shortness of breath –- and more, this condition has specific symptoms backed up by a doctor’s diagnosis to be categorized as asthma.

The more common signs of asthma attacks are the following:

  • Chest tightness and pain
  • Shortness of breath or that feeling that no air is getting into your lungs
  • Wheezing when exhaling or that “whistling” sound when breathing
  • Persistent coughing that aggravates your breathing especially when lying down
  • Difficulty talking or finishing a sentence
  • Fatigue due to shortness of breath
  • Bluish lips or fingers
  • Rapid heartbeat and extremely fast breathing (panting)

People experiencing asthma usually have their attacks or flare-ups under different conditions. What could trigger someone may not necessarily cause a flare-up to another.

Asthma is usually an offshoot of several conditions and triggers. It could be any of the following:

  • Exercise-induced asthma
    This occurs when one is subjected to exercises or physical exertions that make it difficult to breathe. Cold and dry air often worsens the situation.
  • Occupational asthma
    This is induced by workplace irritants such as paints, chemical fumes, smoke, cleaning products, dusts from wood, etc. Most of these are chemical substances that exacerbate asthma.
  • Allergy-induced asthma
    This is triggered by airborne substances and allergens like pollen, dust, pet dander, molds, cockroach waste, and animal hair. An allergist can help you identify which allergens are causing your asthma attack.

But how do you know if your condition is asthma?

First of all, it pays to know what asthma is. Asthma is simply a pulmonary disease characterized by an inflammation of the airways leading to lungs. When these airways swell and muscles around them tighten, the amount of air that passes through the airways is reduced. Thus, the shortness of breath or asthma attack. This happens especially when thick mucus fill the airways.

One way to distinguish asthma from common allergies is that allergies occur in the upper respiratory system. This is usually the case for nasal congestion, nasal drip and sinus pains resulting in chronic coughing. Meanwhile, asthma occurs when airways that carry air to and from the lungs are inflamed.

However, the most efficient way to diagnose asthma is through several breathing tests done by physicians. Medical examinations can be a combination of any of the following:

  • Lung Function Test which is done through a spirometer, an instrument that measures the airflow going in and out of the lungs. Ultimately, this aims to gauge how strong (or weak) your lungs are. You may be asked to do the spirometer test after using a bronchodilator to check if your breathing has improved. Any positive result is an indication of asthma.
  • Allergy Test which is done through skin to check on any possible allergen that can be causing the airways to get inflamed. A skin test involves applying allergens on skin through a very thin needle. This is followed by an observation to see whether an allergic reaction will develop.
  • IgE Blood Test which checks on your immunoglobulin E (IgE)  levels. IgE is a type of antibody that the body’s immune system produces in response to a possible “threat” to the body. High levels of this antibody indicates the possibility of allergic asthma.
  • Methacholine Test which involves inhalation of an asthma trigger called methacholine. Once inhaled, this narrows and tightens the airways leading to lungs. If a patient reacts to a methacholine, the person is most likely to have asthma. 

Know that asthma manifests differently to different people. While others may exhibit chronic wheezing, some may be experiencing chest tightness and shortness of breath. To be able to manage asthma, it’s best to consult your physician, be properly diagnosed, and get the necessary prescriptions.