By Susha Cheriyedath, MSc
The symptoms of asthma may vary in different people and from one time to another. Symptoms also vary in their frequency. In some people, symptoms occur every few months, while others show symptoms every other week or even every day. Asthma symptoms can last for a few minutes to several days.
Common symptoms of asthma include the following:
- Coughing - Coughing due to asthma often gets worse during early morning or night affecting sleep and often bringing up mucus or phlegm.
- Shortness of breath - People having asthma often feel breathless or out of breath, as if they can't get enough air out of their lungs.
- Wheezing - Wheezing refers to high-pitched whistling or squeaky sounds while breathing.
- Chest tightness - Chest tightness often feels like the chest is being squeezed.
Emergency Asthma Symptoms
During a severe asthma attack, the airways could become very narrow and enough oxygen cannot get into the blood and in turn to the vital organs causing a medical emergency. Such severe asthma attacks can be fatal and need immediate medical help.
Key symptoms of emergency asthma include the following:
- Bluish colored lips and face due to oxygen deprivation
- Rapid pulse
- Reduced alertness, drowsiness or confusion
- Severe anxiety as a result of shortness of breath
- Extreme difficulty in breathing
- Sweating profusely
Other major symptoms that may occur during an emergency asthma attack are abnormal breathing pattern, temporary pauses in breathing, and chest pain.
Some people find the signs and symptoms of asthma flare up in certain stressful situations:
- Exercise-induced asthma – is triggered or flared up during exercise. These symptoms can get worse in cold or dry environments
- Allergic asthma is triggered by certain allergens such as pollen or pet dander (flakes of skin in animal fur or skin)
- Occupational asthma is usually triggered by irritants at the workplace including gases, dust or chemical fumes
When to Seek Medical Treatment
Severe and sudden asthma attacks can be fatal. Hence people with asthma should be in touch with their doctor and get advice on what to do in case signs and symptoms of asthma worsen and when to go to the emergency room.
Points to keep in mind are as follows:
- Intermittent coughing or wheezing or any other signs of asthma that lasts for a few days need treatment at the right time, which helps prevent long-term damage to lungs.
- Asthma needs constant monitoring. Keeping symptoms under control helps preventing a fatal asthma attack.
- If signs and symptoms get worse, use a quick-relief inhaler. If medications don't seem to work towards controlling the symptoms, seek immediate medical intervention.
- Overuse of asthma medications can cause serious side effects and also make asthma worse.
- Review symptoms and treatment from time to time as asthma signs keep changing over time.
- Regular doctor visits to discuss the changing symptoms are crucial to make any treatment adjustments required over time.
It is easy to confuse symptoms of asthma with other conditions such as a cold or bronchitis. In the case of a persistent cough, wheezing or shortness of breath, especially at night, it will be good to seek the advice of a health care provider. It is also helpful to monitor the symptoms by noting them down for a few days before seeing a doctor. Also note down the time of the day or night that symptoms occur and the place and activity at the time. This log of symptoms will help the doctor in finalizing the diagnosis and prescribing the right treatment.
Reviewed by Yolanda Smith, BPharm
Last Updated: Jun 8, 2016