What Your Symptoms Say About Your Asthma

Reading the Signs to Maintain Optimal Respiratory Health

Man bothered by air pollution.
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Asthma is characterized by symptoms of wheezing, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath caused by the sudden tightening of airway passages and the overproduction of mucus in the lungs.

But even beyond the symptoms themselves, asthma is a complex disease that can effect significant changes in the lung both over the short and long term. This can lead to not only a worsening of symptoms but an increase in their frequency.

Learning to read the signs, therefore, is the first step to avoiding the complications of asthma and maintaining your optimal respiratory health.

Signs That Your Asthma Is Not Well Controlled

The benefit of asthma control is three-fold: to avoid an attack, to minimize its severity, and to prevent long-term damage to the lungs.

When asthma is not well controlled, it is often because a person has not adhered to the prescribed therapy. At other times, it may be that the treatment needs adjustment and that a person been exposed to triggers they might otherwise avoid.

Whatever the reason, when asthma is not well controlled, you can likely expect to experience one or more of the following:

  • You may become more aware of your wheezing.
  • You may develop a cough that won't go away.
  • You may cough more at night or in cold weather.
  • You may cough or wheeze with physical activity.
  • You may get less relief from quick-relief medications.
  • You may have more trouble falling asleep or getting a good night's rest.
  • You may get easily tired from tasks you can normally complete.
  • Your allergy symptoms may worsen (runny nose, itchy eyes or skin).
  • You may be less able to identify when an attack is about to begin.
  • You may have a downturn in your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR).

    In experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor to determine whether there have been significant changes in your respiratory health. Spirometry and other tests may be used to evaluate the extent of these changes and what, if any, revisions need to be made.

    Signs of a Possible Emergency

    If your asthma symptoms become even more severe, you may reach a point where your quality of life is severely compromised. We're not just talking about being tired at this stage. We're more concerned about the symptoms that are causing you distress and making it difficult for you to even function.

    In such instance, you may need to go to the emergency room if any of following occurs:

    • You have severe wheezing while breathing in and out.
    • You are breathing extremely fast (tachypnea).
    • You are short of breath while talking or have difficulty talking.
    • You are sweating profusely as you labor to breathe.
    • You have a blue-ish tinge to your fingertips or lips (cyanosis).
    • You are unable to perform a PEFR.
    • You have the feeling of impending doom or panic.

    If left untreated, respiratory distress can lead to serious complications and even death. Don't take a chance. Seek care as a matter of urgency.

    A Word From Verywell

    The key to preventing an asthma attack is to formulate a plan of action so that you are more aware of the warning signs and know to react if they appear.

    The plan may begin as more of a journal at first (particularly if you are newly diagnosed), but, over time, you will be able to detail the fine aspects of your disease, including:

    • A list of your asthma triggers and ways to avoid them
    • A list of the typical symptoms that precede an acute attack
    • Your ideal PEFR
    • The list of actions you need to take if your symptoms are moderate or severe

    The more attuned you are to the nuances of your asthma, the less the disease will be able to interfere with your well-being and quality of life.

    Source:

    Krishnan, J.; Lemanske, R.; Canino, G.; et al. "Asthma outcomes: Symptoms." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2012; 29(Supp 3): S124–S135.

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