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Asthma Symptoms, Causes and Types

5 Mins read

Asthma symptoms are not fun to experience or witness. Asthma is a disease that affects one’s breathing, but the good news is that it’s highly treatable. Asthma symptoms can often be managed or controlled. What triggers one’s asthma can also be documented and minimized, to help prevent an asthma attack. 

If someone has asthma, it means their airways sometimes become inflamed, resulting in the narrowing of airway tubes. This is compounded by excess mucus production, making it very difficult to breathe. In addition to trouble breathing, asthma also causes wheezing (which can be distinguished by a whistling sound), coughing, and feeling short of breath. 

For mild cases, asthma is just a pesky nuisance that interferes with activities that involve heavy breathing, such as sports and exercise. Some people only have exercise-induced asthma.

In more serious cases of asthma, however, major asthma attacks can be life-threatening or very dangerous. Because asthma is unpredictable, it can change over time, getting better or worse. For this reason, you must work with a respiratory specialist to keep your asthma in check. This is the only way to ensure you will always get the correct treatment. Respiratory clinics should be visited regularly to get breathing and asthma symptoms checked. Seeing your doctor is good, too, but specialized respiratory clinics are your best bet if one has asthma.

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Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma symptoms vary on a case-by-case basis. You can have infrequent asthma attacks, for example only experiencing it during exercise. Similarly, some people only have asthma attacks when they encounter an allergen.

Others with more severe cases of asthma will have the most frequent and bothersome symptoms. Asthma symptoms and signs include the following: 

  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Shortness of breath and trouble breathing
  • Wheezing sounds during exhalation
  • Trouble sleeping due to coughing, wheezing, or breathing difficulties
  • Coughing or wheezing that gets worse due to the common cold or flu

A diagnosed asthmatic will have maintenance medications to keep their health condition under control. However, when symptoms worsen, they’ll also have rescue medications to provide relief. There are quick-relief inhalers prescribed to asthmatics, for example. Your asthma is worsening if you notice the following more serious symptoms:

  • The symptoms above listed above, such as trouble breathing and wheezing become more intense and more frequent 
  • The peak flow meter (a portable device that measures lung function) reading is poor quite frequently
  • You reach for your quick-relief inhaler more often than you were before

Reasons for the Onset of Asthma

Researchers have not specifically identified one single cause for asthma. Instead, they’ve noted that these breathing issues are due to several factors and triggers such as: 

  • Genetics: If your parent or sibling is asthmatic, you have a higher chance of developing the disease:
  • Viral Infections in Young Children: Those who have dealt with severe respiratory infections when young, such as RSV or neonatal pneumonia, can develop asthma. 
  • Current Illness: Both bacterial and viral infections can trigger an asthma attack. 
  • Hygiene Theory: This hypothesis asserts that if infants are not exposed to enough bacteria, the immune system becomes immature and cannot fight off allergies which trigger asthma. 
  • Occupational Hazards: Some people have adult-onset asthma due to occupational hazards, such as dust and chemical fumes. 
  • Severe Allergies: Many have asthma triggered by particles like pollen, dust, mold spores, animal dander, and even cockroach waste.
  • Exercise-Induced Asthma: Some asthmatics encounter breathing difficulties when they exercise or play sports, but are generally not experiencing asthma symptoms aside from this.
  • Extreme Weather Conditions: Sudden temperature drops can trigger an asthma attack for some asthmatics.
  • Emotional State: For some people, laughing too hard, crying, or even shouting at someone in anger can cause bronchial spasms and lead to an asthma attack. 
  • Stress: When things become too stressful and difficult to bear, it can trigger an asthma attack where shortness of breath is typically the first trigger.
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Diagnosing Asthma

Diagnosis of asthma doesn’t hinge on one test alone. Instead, your doctor will use different clinical assessments to determine the severity. Respiratory clinics are set up to test a person’s breathing in a variety of ways, including breathing exercises, monitored physical exercise, and more. Asthma symptoms, if reported honestly, help with the diagnosis. The following factors typically influence the final diagnosis: 

  • Family History (Genetics): If you have other family members with breathing disorders, you have a higher risk of developing asthma. Notify your doctor if you have a family history that applies to your condition. 
  • Physical Examination: A physical exam will be conducted, with your doctor listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. You may also undergo an allergy test with different histamines to see if you develop a reaction to certain triggers. Unfortunately, allergies to things like pollen, animal dander, nuts, dust mites can increase your risk for asthma. 
  • Breathing Testing: A PFT or pulmonary function test will measure the airflow in and out of the lungs. The most basic is spirometry, where you blow into a small gadget that measures the air you expel. This is one of the breathing tests performed at specialized respiratory clinics.

After consultations and tests are complete, your asthma is categorized into the following classifications based on severity:

  • Intermittent: The majority of asthmatics have this type of asthma. The disease does not  interfere with daily activities, as the symptoms are mild. With intermittent asthma, you could have as few as 2 – 4 asthma attacks per month where you’d need your inhaler.
  • Mild Persistent: Symptoms do not occur daily, but can occur twice per week or four nights per month. 
  • Moderate Persistent: Symptoms are present daily, with one asthma attack per night for most, or one attack every couple of nights. Some activities may be restricted. 
  • Severe Persistent: Symptoms of asthma persist aggressively daily, and on most nights. This means almost daily asthma attacks. As a result, the patient’s activities are extremely limited. 

Treatments for Asthma

Thankfully, there are various treatments for asthma to help you live a good quality of life. First, your doctor will ask you to monitor your symptoms and triggers. You need to take a proactive role in your treatment to ensure long-term control. 

A respiratory specialist will create an asthma treatment plan tailored to your asthma type, your age, and your stressors or individual triggers. From here, you must follow what’s written in the plan to help control the health condition, and prevent the onset of symptoms. Many treatments for asthma are available if you speak to your respiratory specialist. These include breathing exercises, inhalers, an aquatic exercise regime to strengthen your lungs, anti-inflammatory medications to help reduce swelling in the airways, and more. Speak to your doctor if you or your loved one currently has a treatment plan that doesn’t work very well. It’s always possible to experiment with other treatment plans, or adding additional modalities to your existing plan. Asthma is highly treatable.

If you’d like to find out if it’s in your DNA to be at a greater risk for respiratory problems or other health conditions, use CircleDNA to get a full report on the health conditions and other diseases you may have a genetic risk of developing. These health reports will ensure you’re able to live your life to its fullest.

Hannah Wabe
14 posts

About author
Hannah Victoria Wabe has an MA in Development Communication, which shows how just much she loves and believes in the power of words. She works part-time as a writer and educator but works full-time as a mother of three kids, ranging from 8 to 18. Though she’s not a big fan of math, she believes in counting blessings and imbibes an attitude of gratitude.
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