(Last Updated On: June 22, 2023)

What Are the Five Symptoms of Asthma?

Understanding the Signs

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways, which can lead to breathing difficulties. Asthma symptoms can vary from person to person. Still, some of the most common symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. It’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack so you can seek medical attention if necessary.

Woman holding hand on chest, experiencing asthma attack

Wheezing: The First Common Symptom of Asthma

Wheezing is a common symptom of asthma that occurs when the airways become narrowed and inflamed. It literally sounds like a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing in or out. Wheezing can be a frightening experience, especially for those who have never experienced it.

Allergies, exercise, or exposure to irritants such as smoke or pollution often trigger asthma-related wheezing. When the airways become inflamed, they produce excess mucus that further narrows the airways and makes breathing difficult. The mucus buildup can make it harder for air to flow through the lungs, causing wheezing sounds. This buildup can sometimes be so severe that it causes an asthma attack.

In severe cases, wheezing may cause the skin around the lips and face to turn blue due to a lack of oxygen. This condition is known as cyanosis and requires immediate medical attention. Cyanosis is a sign that insufficient oxygen is circulating in the body and can be life-threatening if left untreated.

Shortness of Breath: A Second Key Symptom

Shortness of breath is a common symptom of asthma that can be frightening and uncomfortable. It can occur suddenly and without warning, making breathing difficult. This symptom is often accompanied by wheezing or coughing, but in some cases, it may not produce any sound.

Occupational asthma is a type of asthma that can cause shortness of breath in people who work in specific industries or environments. This type of asthma is caused by exposure to certain substances or chemicals at work, such as dust, fumes, and gasses. The symptoms usually start soon after exposure to the trigger and can be severe.

Silent symptoms of asthma are those that do not produce any sound, such as wheezing or coughing. Shortness of breath without these sounds can be challenging to recognize and diagnose. However, pulse oximeters can measure oxygen levels in the blood and help identify shortness of breath as an asthma symptom.

Children with asthma may experience shortness of breath more frequently than adults because their airways are smaller and more sensitive. The symptoms of pediatric asthma can range from a nagging cough that lingers for days or weeks to sudden breathing emergencies, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Parents should monitor their child’s peak flow regularly and seek medical attention if they notice any changes.

Chest Tightness: A Third Key Symptom

Chest tightness is one of the most common symptoms of asthma. It can be described as a feeling of pressure or constriction in the chest, often accompanied by difficulty breathing. Various factors, including exercise, exposure to allergens or irritants, and emotional stress can trigger the symptom.

The primary cause of chest tightness in asthma is the tightening of muscles in the chest and ribs. This tightening can make breathing difficult and may feel like a heavy weight on the chest. In some cases, this symptom may also be accompanied by wheezing or coughing.

Chest tightness can occur anytime, but it is often worse during exercise or exposure to triggers such as smoke or pollen. Some people with asthma may experience chest tightness only occasionally, while others may have it frequently as part of their overall asthma symptoms.

If you experience chest tightness, seeking medical attention as soon as possible is important. Chest tightness could indicate that your asthma is worsening and could lead to a severe asthma attack if left untreated.

Coughing: A Fourth Symptom

Coughing is a common asthma symptom, affecting around 50-80 percent of people with the condition. It can be a persistent and troublesome symptom that affects daily life. Asthma-related coughing is often worse at night or early in the morning and can be triggered by exercise, cold air, or exposure to allergens.

Asthma-related coughing is different from regular coughing as it usually comes with other symptoms, such as wheezing or shortness of breath. The cough may be dry and persistent or accompanied by phlegm, and it may last for weeks or months. If you experience frequent coughing, especially if it occurs with other asthma symptoms, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

In some cases, asthma-related coughing can be so severe that it causes vomiting or exhaustion. This type of cough is known as “cough-variant” asthma. Not all people with asthma experience this type of cough; however, if you have a history of allergies or respiratory infections and are experiencing consistent coughs without any apparent cause, you should consult your doctor.

Some people with asthma may only experience a chronic cough as their primary symptom without any other noticeable signs of the condition. This type of asthma is called “cough-predominant” asthma. People with this form tend to have difficulty breathing out but do not necessarily have wheezing.

Difficulty Breathing: A Fifth Key Symptom

Difficulty breathing is one of the most common and severe symptoms of asthma. It can be a terrifying experience, especially in severe cases. Breathing difficulty occurs when the breathing tubes become inflamed and narrowed, reducing the airflow to the lungs. This inflammation causes the muscles around the airways to tighten up, making it harder for air to pass through. As a result, people with asthma may feel like they are struggling to catch their breath or cannot get enough air into their lungs.

Asthma attacks can cause difficulty breathing, making it hard to inhale and exhale properly. During an attack, the airways become even more inflamed and narrow than usual. Difficulty breathing is a warning sign that asthma is not well-controlled and requires prompt medical attention. Left untreated or unmanaged for too long, it could lead to life-threatening situations such as respiratory failure or cardiac arrest.

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