Asthma is a common condition, but it isn’t one that should be ignored or swept under the rug. Its signs and symptoms are similar to other ailments like the common cold, but this is what makes asthma so dangerous.
If these symptoms go undetected, you could have an asthma attack and put yourself at serious risk – or even death.
In fact, the AAFA reports that 3,615 people died from asthma in 2015 and 10 Americans die from asthma every day. Even with the cases of asthma increasing at a steady rate, there are ways to manage and control asthma. If you know the symptoms, triggers, and available treatment options for asthma, you’ll be prepared to better manage your health and your asthma.
Common Asthma Symptoms
In order to understand asthma’s most common signs and symptoms, it’s important to know what causes asthma.
Asthma is a health condition that affects the airways or the pathway from the nose and mouth to the lungs. While healthy airways are able to easily carry air in and out of the body, asthma complicates this process. Triggers or irritants can cause swelling in the airways, making it difficult to get air in or out – and the muscles around your airways tighten to make it even harder to breathe.
The most common signs and symptoms of asthma include the following:
- Shortness of breath, which prevents you from getting enough oxygen into your airways
- Coughing, which is your body trying to get rid of irritants in the airways
- Wheezing, which occurs when your airways narrow from inflammation or muscle tightening
- Chest tightness, which occurs when you’re struggling to get air in and out
Other, less common signs of asthma can also be a signal that something serious is happening in your body. These can include:
- A cough that won’t go away
- Difficulty sleeping due to coughing and trouble breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Viral infections that last longer than normal
While many of these symptoms can easily be mistaken for ailments like the common cold, it’s important to recognize that any combination of these signs could actually be asthma.
While asthma is a lifelong condition, certain external forces can trigger your asthma, making it flare up or worsen for periods of time. These asthma triggers can make your symptoms worse, leaving you struggling to breathe or in danger of having an asthma attack.
Knowing what triggers asthma is as important as knowing the signs and symptoms. Triggers will enhance your symptoms, and they could put your life in danger.
If you have asthma, the airways from your nose and mouth to your lungs are typically inflamed – even if you aren’t experiencing symptoms or an asthma attack. When your airways encounter a trigger, your airways become even more inflamed, irritated, swollen, and tight.
To avoid an asthma attack, you’ll need to be aware of those triggers that can complicate your breathing and put your health at risk. The following are some common asthma triggers:
- Typical allergens, like dust mites, animal dander, mold, and pollen
- Tobacco smoke
- Air pollution
- Strong odors or fumes
- Aspirin or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or beta blockers
- Stress and anxiety
- Viral and bacterial infections, like the common cold and sinusitis
- Acid reflux
Signs of an Asthma Attack
In addition to worrying about the regular signs and symptoms of asthma, those who are diagnosed with this condition must also be informed about asthma attacks. An asthma attack can happen at any time, and its signs can be very similar to the usual symptoms of your asthma.
When an asthma attack strikes, it can begin as a series of symptoms: shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, and chest pain. If you begin experiencing the usual symptoms but notice that they’re worse, or they’re making it incredibly difficult to breathe, you’re likely having an asthma attack.
Asthma Treatment Options
Although asthma is a condition that you’ll have to deal with throughout your entire life, there are ways to treat asthma’s symptoms and manage any flares, triggers, and asthma attacks. These treatment options can help you breathe more easily, live life more normally, and stay in control of your health.
The following treatment options are all commonly used to treat asthma and its symptoms:
- Inhalers, which deliver asthma medications through the nose or mouth. An inhaler gets the medication to your lungs quickly, and they can come in metered doses or dry powder form.
- Nebulizers, which are machines that deliver liquid medication by turning it into a mist. You’ll use tubes to inhale the medication and deliver it to your lungs. Nebulizers are a great alternative for anyone who struggles with an inhaler.
- Long-term control medications, which are daily medications that help prevent and control asthma symptoms. These medications can reduce swelling in the airways, reduce mucus, relax the muscles around your airways, and prevent inflammation.
- Quick-relief medications, which work quickly to soothe or relieve asthma symptoms like muscle tightening, difficulty breathing, and coughing. These can be taken as soon as symptoms appear and used whenever needed.
Although asthma symptoms can be similar in many different people, it’s important to be knowledgeable about your own unique case of asthma and the symptoms and signs you experience. Knowing those signs can help you prevent or stop an asthma attack and keep you in control of managing your health.