Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. If you have asthma your airways are always inflamed. They become even more swollen, and the muscles around the airways can tighten when something triggers your symptoms. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
People with a family history of allergies or asthma are more prone to developing asthma. Many people with asthma also have allergies, a disease called allergic asthma. Occupational asthma is caused by inhaling fumes, gases, dust or other potentially harmful substances while on the job. For many asthma sufferers, timing of their symptoms is closely related to physical activity or pollen and allergen exposure. Additionally, some otherwise healthy people can develop asthma symptoms only when exercising, which is termed exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or exercise-induced asthma. Staying active is an important way to stay healthy, so asthma shouldn't keep you on the sidelines. We can help you develop a management plan to keep your symptoms under control before, during and after physical activity.
The most common symptom is wheezing. This is a scratchy or whistling sound when you breathe. Other symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Chronic coughing
- Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing
Asthma symptoms, also called asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks, are often caused by allergies and exposure to allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, pollen or mold. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, pollution or cold air or changes in weather. Asthma symptoms may be worse during exercise, when you have a cold or during times of high stress. Children with asthma may show the same symptoms as adults with asthma: coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. However, in some children chronic cough may be the only symptom.
If you or your child has one or more of these common symptoms, please make an appointment to see us:
- Coughing that is constant or that is made worse by viral infections, happens while your child is asleep, or is triggered by exercise and cold air
- Wheezing or whistling sound when your child exhales
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which may be associated with exercise
- Chest tightness (a young child may say that his chest “hurts” or “feels funny”)
- Fatigue (your child may slow down or stop playing)
- Avoiding sports or social activities
- Problems sleeping due to coughing or difficulty breathing
Patterns in asthma symptoms are important and can help your doctor make a diagnosis. Pay attention to when symptoms occur:
- At night or early morning
- During or after exercise
- During certain seasons
- After laughing or crying
- When exposed to common asthma triggers
An allergist diagnoses asthma by taking a thorough medical history and performing breathing tests to measure how well your lungs work.
One of these tests is called spirometry. You will take a deep breath and blow into a sensor to measure the amount of air your lungs can hold and the speed of the air you inhale or exhale. This test diagnoses asthma severity and measures how well treatment is working. Another test we may employ is called Exhaled Nitric Oxide (ENO). ENO is a marker of allergic inflammation in the airways, and can help in the diagnosis and management of asthma. Many people with asthma also have allergies, so your doctor may perform allergy testing. Treating the underlying allergic triggers for your asthma will help you avoid asthma symptoms.
Learn more about asthma symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and management. There is no cure for asthma, but once it is properly diagnosed and a treatment plan is in place you will be able to manage your condition, and your quality of life will improve.