What are the asthma symptoms?
So what is asthma and what are the symptoms? The condition consists of inflammation, tightening and swelling of the airways, resulting in obstruction of the flow of air to and from the lungs. The symptoms of asthma include breathlessness, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Sufferers may also have frequent colds, chest infections, a blocked nose and hay fever, or rhinitis. The symptoms and their severity are peculiar to the individual, and they vary from season to season and according to the individual’s susceptibility to a wide range of triggers.
An asthma attack is the term used to describe an episode of breathing difficulty. In some cases, this may follow exposure to a specific trigger, such as dust, pollen, or certain foods. In other cases there appears to be no particular trigger. Some people have a cough and no wheeze, while others may have a wheeze and very little coughing, but each case is accompanied by some level of breathing difficulty. Asthma symptoms may occur periodically, on a day-to-day or season-to-season basis, or they may be more or less continuous.
A trigger is something that makes asthma worse. The most common triggers include (in alphabetical order): allergies; cigarette smoking (and cigarette smoke for non-smokers); colds and flu; cold air; dust mites; exercise under certain circumstances; moulds; noxious fumes; pollens; stress, and weather types such as fog and damp. In some instances an asthma attack may be triggered by a combination of catalysts. Anxiety can be caused by the variations on the asthma theme, particularly where a child is involved. Sometimes, there may be confusion between doctor and patient when a diagnosis is being made.
There is also a wide variety in the symptoms of asthma. The following is a list of those most commonly experienced by sufferers.
This is a high pitched whistling sound produced when air is forced through narrowed airways. If you blow through a Biro pen when the ink refill is removed, the sound is similar.
This is the feeling of not being able to take in enough air. There is a need to breathe out while, at the same time, a compulsion to breathe in. If this symptom develops to an extreme level it can be frightening for the sufferer and very distressing for those close to him or her.
Often described as cough variant asthma, this may be either a repetitive dry cough or a cough with phlegm, often occurring during the night or early morning. Repetitive coughing can put a strain on the heart and drives sputum deeper into the lungs. Patients with this symptom may feel like they are on a conveyor belt: the more they cough, the more they feel the need to cough again.
· Chest tightness
Trapped air in the lungs generates a feeling that the chest is over inflated. This is often described as someone squeezing or sitting on one’s chest.
· Frequent yawning
When asthma symptoms are at their worst, sleep is interrupted by difficult periods of breathing which contributes to tiredness.
Frequent colds and chest infections
Many asthmatics present themselves to our clinic with recurrent chest infections. Oftentimes, their asthma manifests with frequent coughing and wheezing only during the infection. When the infection is not present, asthma is not a problem.
Non-asthmatics can, of course, observe these symptoms, but they will not appreciate the feelings of tension, panic, uncertainty and helplessness which accompany them, particularly when the asthmatic struggles to breathe. If you are not an asthmatic, imagine trying to breathe while a pillow is being pressed firmly over your face. That feeling you imagine is the feeling someone with asthma has during an attack. In your case, the imaginary pillow can be easily removed to allow you to breathe effortlessly; for an asthmatic, the remedy is not so simple.
Given the variety of asthma symptoms and their severity, diagnosing a condition that has no commonly accepted definition is not an exact science. Many asthma symptoms are also the symptoms of other conditions, such as chronic bronchitis or bronchiectasis, for example. Diagnosis has to take into account the chronic nature of asthma and the constriction of the airways due to inflammation by various cells and chemicals.