What Are The Symptoms
Asthma can be different for everyone. Asthma symptoms can also vary over time, with few or no symptoms when asthma is well controlled. The common signs and symptoms of poorly controlled asthma include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping because of breathing difficulty
- Being unable to take part in physical activities without breathing difficulty
These symptoms can occur slowly over hours or days, or they can come on as sudden, recurring attacks after which the symptoms can persist for some time before disappearing. If left untreated, asthma can cause permanent structural changes in your airways called airway remodelling, which is why it is important to get your asthma under control and keep treating it over the long term.
Whats The First Thing To Do When Asthma Symptoms Begin
The moment you first notice symptoms use your prescribed quick-relief inhaler containing albuterol or levalbuterol medicine. This medication will relax the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe within a few short minutes. Use your quick-relief inhaler at the first sign of symptoms or before exercise to prevent symptoms from getting out of control.
Diagnosing Asthma In A Young Child Can Be More Challenging Because:
- Children under six years of age are not generally able to do a lung function test
- Symptoms such as cough and wheeze are fairly common in very young children who do not have asthma
However, a diagnosis of asthma can be made in a young child. Your health-care provider will assess:
- What symptoms does the child have?
- When do the symptoms occur ?
- Is there a history of allergies or asthma in the family?
- Does the child have any signs of allergies
- Do the symptoms improve when taking asthma medications?
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Medications are usually needed for asthma, even if its mild asthma. New asthma medications are continually being discovered and there are several effective asthma drugs in the market that help get asthma under control.
There are two types of asthma medications: controllers and relievers.
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Do I Need To Take Medications When I Do Not Have Symptoms
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease. This means that even when you do not have any symptoms, your airways may still be inflamed. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute strongly recommends taking your controller medications every day.2 These medications reduce the inflammation in your airways, which makes them less sensitive. If your airways are less sensitive, your risk of having an asthma attack is lower and your lung function will be better.2
Anxiety And Hyperventilation Syndrome
Both anxiety and hyperventilation syndrome may cause shortness of breath and rapid breathing during flare-ups.
While such breathing difficulties may be mistaken with asthma, these arent caused by airway constriction. Wheezing and coughing also arent typical with these two conditions.
See a doctor for any chronic coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath that doesnt seem to have an underlying cause, such as a URTI.
A doctor may also refer you to a specialist, such as an allergist, immunologist, or pulmonologist.
Seek emergency medical help if youre experiencing significant breathing difficulties or the symptoms of a severe asthma attack, such as:
- rapid breathing
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What Other Tools Can I Use For Monitoring Asthma Control
Peak Flow Meter
Sometimes doctors recommend a peak flow meter a handheld device that measures how well air moves out of your lungs. A peak flow meter, when used every day, can spot reduced airflow before you notice the signs and symptoms of an asthma episode.
Peak flow meter readings can help you monitor your asthma control. But they are just one tool. Your peak flow meter reading is not the only indicator of asthma control. Always follow your Asthma Action Plan.
Doctors use pulse oximeters to measure how much oxygen your blood is carrying. Some people with asthma may experience a drop in their oxygen levels in their blood.
Pulse oximeters you can buy online and use at home are not as accurate as medical grade devices. Monitoring your blood oxygen levels with pulse oximeters is not a recommended part of home management of asthma.
Lung Function Tests
Your allergist or pulmonologist may use different lung function tests to assess your asthma control. Learn more about the tests used to diagnose and monitor asthma.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
As with asthma, people with COPD may experience coughing and shortness of breath.
Its also possible to have both asthma and COPD. Contact a doctor if youre experiencing symptoms of either condition.
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How Do I Know If My Asthma Is Not Well
A good way to know if your asthma is not well-controlled is by answering these questions:
- Do you have asthma symptoms more than two times a week?
- Do you take your quick-relief medicine more than two times a week?
- Do you wake up from asthma more than two times a month?
- Do you use oral corticosteroids more than two times a year?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, talk with your doctor.
If your asthma is not well-controlled, your daily activities may be limited. You may miss work or school. You may increase your chances of having complications from a respiratory infection. And you may be at greater risk for going to the emergency room, staying in the hospital, or even dying from asthma.
Coping With Anxiety About Asthma
Asthma can be upsetting. For some people, it could just be a nuisance in your day-to-day life but for others, it can be a constant threat to life. Worry and stress add an additional emotional burden to the physical symptoms of asthma. The relationship between asthma and anxiety is complex Here are the ways that anxiety could affect your asthma:
- Hyperventilation When you are anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower, lessening the amount of oxygen that reaches vital organs. Those with anxiety may be more prone to hyperventilating so this could be triggering an asthma attack.
- Inflammation Stress places your body in a state of inflammation. While stress alone is unlikely to trigger the airway inflammation seen in asthma, being stressed can make it harder to control flare-ups when they do occur.
- Changes in the body Anxiety triggers the release of histamine, the chemical that triggers allergies. This can consequently lead to asthma attacks. When you are stressed, your immune system is also down, making you more susceptible to viruses and external triggers.
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Four Components Of Asthma Treatment
The use of objective measures of lung functionspirometry, peak flow expiratory flow rateto access the severity of asthma, and to monitor the course of treatment.
The use of medication therapy designed to reverse and prevent the airway inflammation component of asthma, as well as to treat the narrowing airways.
The use of environmental control measures to avoid or eliminate factors that induce or trigger asthma flare-ups, including the consideration of immunotherapy.
Patient education that includes a partnership among the patient, family members, and the doctor.
What Causes An Asthma Attack
An asthma attack can happen when you are exposed to asthma triggers. Your asthma triggers can be very different from someone elses asthma triggers. Know your triggers and learn how to avoid them. Watch out for an attack when you cant avoid your triggers. Some of the most common triggers are tobacco smoke, dust mites, outdoor air pollution, cockroach allergen, pets, mold, smoke from burning wood or grass, and infections like flu.
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Evaluating An Asthma Attack
Because people who are having a severe asthma attack commonly have low blood oxygen levels, doctors may check the level of oxygen by using a sensing monitor on a finger or ear . In severe attacks, doctors also need to measure levels of carbon dioxide in the blood Arterial Blood Gas Analysis and Pulse Oximetry Both arterial blood gas testing and pulse oximetry measure the amount of oxygen in the blood, which helps determine how well the lungs are functioning. Arterial blood gas tests are invasive… read more , and this test typically requires obtaining a sample of blood from an artery or, occasionally, a vein. However, carbon dioxide levels can sometimes be monitored in the person’s breath using a sensor placed in front of the nose or mouth.
Doctors may also check lung function, usually with a spirometer or with a peak flow meter. Usually, a chest x-ray is needed only when asthma attacks are severe, in order to rule out other serious conditions .
How Do Healthcare Providers Diagnose Asthma
Your healthcare provider will review your medical history, including information about your parents and siblings. Your provider will also ask you about your symptoms. Your provider will need to know any history of allergies, eczema and other lung diseases.
Your provider may order spirometry. This test measures airflow through your lungs and is used to diagnose and monitor your progress with treatment. Your healthcare provider may order a chest X-ray, blood test or skin test.
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What Is Good Asthma Care
Your doctor or nurse will tailor your asthma treatment to your symptoms. Sometimes you may need to be on higher levels of medication than at others.
You should be offered:
- care at your GP surgery provided by doctors and nurses trained in asthma management
- full information about your condition and how to control it
- involvement in making decisions about your treatment
- regular checks to ensure your asthma is under control and your treatment is right for you
- a written personal asthma action plan agreed with your doctor or nurse
It is also important that your GP or pharmacist teaches you how to properly use your inhaler, as this is an important part of good asthma care.
Diagnosing Asthma In Older People
). Doctors may use the term “rescue treatment” to describe treatment of an acute attack and “maintenance treatment” to describe treatments aimed at preventing attacks. Most of the drugs used to prevent asthma attacks are also used to treat an asthma attack but in higher doses or in different forms. Some people need to use more than one drug to prevent and treat their symptoms. The Drugs for Preventing and Treating Asthma Drugs for Preventing and Treating Asthma Drugs allow most people with asthma to lead relatively normal lives. Most of the drugs used to treat an asthma attack can be used to prevent attacks. (See also Asthma… read more are discussed in more detail elsewhere.
Therapy is based on two classes of drugs:
Anti-inflammatory drugs suppress the inflammation that narrows the airways. Anti-inflammatory drugs include corticosteroids , leukotriene modifiers, and mast cell stabilizers.
Bronchodilators help to relax and widen the airways. Bronchodilators include beta-adrenergic drugs , anticholinergics, and methylxanthines.
Immunomodulators, drugs that directly alter the immune system are sometimes used for people with severe asthma, but most people do not need immunomodulators. These drugs block substances in the body that cause inflammation.
What can trigger an attack
What helps to prevent an attack
How to use drugs properly
When to seek medical care
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Who Is At Risk For Asthma
Asthma affects people of all ages, but it often starts during childhood. Certain factors can raise your risk of having asthma:
- Being exposed to secondhand smoke when your mother is pregnant with you or when you are a small child
- Being exposed to certain substances at work, such as chemical irritants or industrial dusts
- Genetics and family history. You are more likely to have asthma if one of your parents has it, especially if it’s your mother.
- Race or ethnicity. Black and African Americans and Puerto Ricans are at higher risk of asthma than people of other races or ethnicities.
- Having other diseases or conditions such as obesity and allergies
- Often having viral respiratory infections as a young child
- Sex. In children, asthma is more common in boys. In teens and adults, it is more common in women.
What Is An Asthma Trigger
A trigger is anything that irritates your airways. Asthma is caused by two types of triggers.
- Allergic trigger: cause allergic reactions. Allergic triggers include things like dust mites, pollens, moulds, pet dander,
- Non-allergic trigger: are usually irritants. Non-allergic triggers include things like smoke, cold air, certain air pollutants, intense emotions
Learn more about different types of asthma triggers and how to manage them.
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Asthma Signs & Symptoms
People with asthma experience symptoms due to inflammation in the airways. They might only occur when you encounter an asthma trigger. Common symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of asthma include:
- Persistent or recurring coughing: which often occurs at night or early in the morning, although it can happen at any time. Coughing is a major feature of asthma, especially in children and can sometimes be the only sign of asthma.
- Wheezing: is difficulty breathing accompanied by a whistling sound coming from your airways
- Shortness of breath: gives you the feeling that you cant get enough air into your lungs, and may even find it difficult to eat, sleep or speak
- Chest tightness: an unpleasant sensation of heaviness or pressure in the chest that can make it hard to breathe
- Increased mucus production: is characterized by high levels of thick fluid or phlegm accumulating in your airways
- Difficulty breathing while exercising: having trouble breathing while performing physical activities can be a sign of asthma
- Losing Sleep: Being unable to sleep through the night because of breathing troubles
Will Treating Asthma Make My Symptoms Go Away
If your asthma is well controlled, you should have symptoms less than three days per week.2 Your symptoms should not wake you up at night. You should not miss work or school because of your symptoms. You should be able to participate fully in any activity that you choose, including exercise.2
If these goals are not being met, you can talk with your health care provider about changing your medication. It can be helpful to keep track of your symptoms in a daily diary.2 This will make follow-up visits with your health care provider easier. Your health care provider may also give you a questionnaire about your symptoms.
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Breathing: Normal Airways Vs Asthma Airways
Normal: In someone with optimal lung function, air is inhaled through the nose and mouth, passing through the trachea before moving into the bronchi . The bronchi branch into smaller tubes, ending in many small sacs called alveoli. Its in the alveoli that oxygen is passed to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed.
Asthma: In someone with asthma, the airways are inflamed, and when triggered, can constrict even more, obstructing airflow to the lungs.
What Is An Asthma Attack
When you breathe normally, muscles around your airways are relaxed, letting air move easily and quietly. During an asthma attack, three things can happen:
- Bronchospasm: The muscles around the airways constrict . When they tighten, it makes your airways narrow. Air cannot flow freely through constricted airways.
- Inflammation: The lining of your airways becomes swollen. Swollen airways dont let as much air in or out of your lungs.
- Mucus production: During the attack, your body creates more mucus. This thick mucus clogs airways.
When your airways get tighter, you make a sound called wheezing when you breathe, a noise your airways make when you breathe out. You might also hear an asthma attack called an exacerbation or a flare-up. Its the term for when your asthma isnt controlled.
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Know Why Infections Trigger Asthma Symptoms
Sometimes a virus or bacterial infection is an asthma trigger. For instance, you might have a cold virus that triggers your asthma symptoms. Or your asthma can be triggered by a bacterial sinus infection. Sinusitis with asthma is common.
Itâs important to know the signs and symptoms of respiratory tract infections and to call your health care provider immediately for diagnosis and treatment. For instance, you might have symptoms of increased shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or wheezing with a bronchial infection. In people who donât have asthma, the bronchial infection may not trigger the same debilitating symptoms. Know your body and understand warning signs that an infection might be starting. Then take the proper medications as prescribed to eliminate the infection and regain control of your asthma and health.
For more detail, see WebMDâs article Infections and Asthma.
What Happens During An Asthma Attack
People with asthma have acute episodes when the air passages in their lungs get narrower, and breathing becomes more difficult. These problems are caused by an oversensitivity of the lungs and airways:
Lungs and airways overreact to certain triggers and become inflamed and clogged.
Breathing becomes harder and may hurt.
There may be coughing.
There may be a wheezing or whistling sound, which is typical of asthma. Wheezing occurs because:
Muscles that surround the airways tighten, and the inner lining of the airways swells and pushes inward.
Membranes that line the airways secrete extra mucus.
The mucus can form plugs that further block the air passages.
The rush of air through the narrowed airways produces the wheezing sounds.
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Asthma Symptoms Acute Vs Chronic
In medical related matters, acute simply means short term, and chronic means long term. Although asthma is a chronic disorder, since it usually lasts a long time , you can have both chronic and acute asthma symptoms. If someone does not properly manage their asthma, they can have regular chronic symptoms for many weeks, months, or even years. For example, they could experience a regular cough that lasts a long time if not managed properly.
Then on top of the regular chronic cough, they may also sometimes experience an acute asthma worsening that leads to a symptom such as shortness of breath. This could perhaps be due to getting a cold, or exposure to pollen or air pollution.
When someone has asthma, it is very important to keep it well controlled so that there are no chronic asthma symptoms. You cant avoid all asthma symptoms all the time, but in general the symptoms should be uncommon and mild.
It is also very important to monitor your asthma so that you notice when there are acute asthma symptoms starting and can take the necessary measures to get it under control before it leads to an asthma attack. A written asthma action plan from your doctor can be very helpful in guiding your treatment decisions.
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- Medical history
- Test results, such as a lung function test