AsthmaAsthma is a chronic condition in which your airways narrow and swell due to inflammation and increased production of mucus. This narrowing can make it difficult for air to circulate into and out of the lungs, and the resulting symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty catching your breath, chest tightness or pressure, and/or coughing. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled and managed with medication prescribed by your physician. Symptoms of Asthma An individual’s asthma can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of symptoms, how often they occur, or if they are persistent and/or sudden. Symptoms of asthma include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing (a whistling sound located in the chest while exhaling)
- Fatigue or feeling out of breath
- Increased frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.
- Increased difficulty breathing, which can be measured and checked with certain devices.
- Reduced effectiveness of your current asthma medication(s) and increased use of an albuterol or levalbuterol (quick-relief) inhaler.
- Chest pain
- Extreme difficulty breathing
- Cyanosis (when the skin appears blue-ish and pale in color)
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Mental confusion or dizziness
- Difficulty walking or talking
- Any type of plant pollen
- Airborne dust mite particles
- Cockroach waste
- Pet dander
- Exercise (which can make symptoms worsen when performed in cold, dry air)
- Pollution, fumes, smoke, or gases
- Household or workplace cleaners and detergents
- Respiratory illnesses such as the common cold or flu
- Certain medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Childhood AsthmaIt is important for parents to know that childhood asthma is the same disease that occurs in adults. The causes and triggers are similar and still vary among individuals. However, diagnosing children with asthma can be difficult, as signs and symptoms of breathing troubles in children may be a result of other underlying causes, such as recurrent bronchitis or Eustachian tube dysfunction. As in adults, childhood asthma cannot be cured, but rather, can be controlled and managed by your child’s pediatrician. Symptoms of Childhood Asthma The symptoms of childhood asthma can be the same as those found in adult asthma and may differ from child to child. Some particular signs to look out for include:
- Whistling or wheezing sounds from the chest
- Increased coughing, wheezing, or catching the breath during or after expressive crying, yelling, or laughing Difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing at night
- Fatigue due to poor sleep
- Frequent disruptions in play or exercise due to difficulty breathing or catching the breath
- Frequent coughing and wheezing that worsens with the cold or flu
- Long-lasting respiratory infections, or respiratory infections that develop into bronchitis
- Difficulty breathing or catching the breath with exposure to cold air
- Parents with histories of asthma or environmental allergies
- Previous allergic reactions due to food, pet dander, or pollen
- Frequent exposure to environmental pollutants, such as tobacco exposure
- Certain viral infections during infancy or toddlerhood
- Comorbidity with obesity or gastrointestinal issues
- Recurring hospital or emergency care
- Missed days at school
- Reduced quality of life
- Permanent decrease in lung function
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease typically experience similar symptoms as observed in asthma patients. Individuals can also be comorbid for both asthma and COPD. However, while asthma patients may see improvement in their symptoms over time, COPD is a progressive disease that gradually worsens over time. It is vital that an individual with COPD work closely with their physician to slow the progression of their disease and manage their symptoms. Symptoms of COPD The symptoms of COPD are characterized by a slow progression over time. This means that what may appear to be asthma symptoms, such as cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness, overall worsen with age. Most patients with COPD do not realize they have it until they reach their late 40s or 50s. Common symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness
- Increasing breathlessness over time
- A persistent, productive cough that does not completely resolve
- Frequent or recurring chest infections
- Weight loss or fatigue
- Swollen ankles due to a build-up of fluid (edema)
- Chest pain and bloody phlegm produced while coughing (though these are usually signs of other serious conditions)
- Long-term tobacco smoking (from cigar or cigarette smoke) or long-term second-hand exposure to cigarette/cigar/marijuana smoke.
- Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to fumes, vapors, and/or dusts can irritate and inflame your lungs.
- Exposure to fumes from burning fuel if living in buildings with poor ventilation.
- Emphysema (a lung disease that destroys the alveoli in the lungs)
- Chronic or recurring bronchitis (contributes to the increased narrowing of the bronchial tubes and increased mucous production, which can add to airway obstruction)
- Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic disorder that can cause damage to the liver and the lungs that affects about 1% of people with COPD)
- Pulmonary function tests. The most common test is a spirometry test. These tests measure the amount of air you can inhale and exhale (measures your lung capacity). Another common test uses a pulse oximeter, which is a small device placed over a finger that measures your heart rate and your blood oxygen level.
- Imaging, such as a chest x-ray or CT scan. These can help your doctor visualize your lungs and surrounding organs to detect any issues, such as emphysema or other lung problems.
- Blood tests or laboratory tests. A blood test known as an arterial blood gas analysis (ABG) measures how well your lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. Lab tests can help determine the cause of your symptoms or rule out other conditions that may involve similar symptoms.
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What happens during an asthma attack?
- During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in your lungs become swollen and inflamed. The muscles around the airways to your lungs contract and the airways can produce excess mucus resulting in breathing tubes (or bronchial tubes) to narrow. This can results in some or all of the following symptoms: coughing, wheezing and trouble breathing.
Who gets asthma?
- Anyone can get asthma at any time during their lifetime. There is a genetic component to asthma: meaning your child is more likely to have it if it runs in your family or if both parents have asthma. Many people with asthma tend to have environmental allergies or eczema or a family history of eczema or environmental allergies.
Can asthma be cured?
- Asthma cannot be cured but there are some very effective treatments to keep it under control and lead a completely normal life. Some kids outgrow asthma by adulthood but for most people this is a lifelong condition.
Written by: Dr. Neha Reshamwala
NPI number: 1780874578
Page last reviewed: 03/20/21