Asthma is a lifelong condition that can make it hard to breathe. It causes the airways that lead to the lungs to tighten and become narrow. This makes it hard to breathe and may cause wheezing and coughing. Even though asthma is a lifelong condition, treatment can help you feel and breathe better and help keep your lungs healthy.
What are possible symptoms of Asthma?
When you have asthma, you may:
- Wheeze, making a loud or soft whistling noise when you breathe in and out.
- Cough a lot. This is the only symptom for some people.
- Feel tightness in your chest.
- Feel short of breath. You may have rapid, shallow breathing or trouble breathing.
- Have trouble sleeping because you're coughing or having a hard time breathing.
- Get tired quickly during exercise.
Symptoms may start soon after you're around things (triggers) that cause your asthma attacks. This is an early phase response. Or they may start several hours after exposure (late phase response). A late-phase response can make it harder to figure out what triggers your symptoms. Symptoms can be mild or severe.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
To determine if you have asthma, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health. Your doctor may also have you do breathing tests that may include:
- Lung function tests can help your doctor diagnose asthma, see how bad it is, and check for problems. These tests may include:
- Spirometry. Doctors use this test to diagnose and keep track of asthma. It measures how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs and how much air you move.
- Peak expiratory flow. This test shows how much air you can quickly breathe out as hard as you can.
- An exercise or inhalation challenge. This test measures how well you can breathe in and out after exercise or after taking a medicine.
Asthma can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms vary widely. And asthma-like symptoms can also be caused, or a problem with another organ, like your heart. For these your doctor may do other tests.
What Causes an Asthma Attack?
Asthma attacks are caused by:
- Long-term (chronic) inflammation in the tubes that carry air to the lungs (bronchial tubes). Inflammation leads to overreaction (hyperresponsiveness) of the tubes to triggers.
- Tightening of the smooth muscles in the bronchial tubes, causing the airways to become smaller. This reduces airflow in and out of the lungs.
- Extra mucus produced by the mucous glands in the bronchial tubes. This can occur in some people who have asthma and can interfere with airflow.
Anything that makes your asthma or breathing worse can cause an asthma attack, it may be things that you are allergic to like dust or dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Other things that can cause an asthma attack are:
- Cigarette smoke, air pollution, and chemicals.
- A cold, the flu, or other types of upper respiratory infection.
- Exercise. Many people with asthma have symptoms when they exercise.
- Dry, cold air.
- Medicines, such as aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or beta-blockers.
- Changes in hormones, such as during the start of a woman’s menstrual blood flow or pregnancy.
How is asthma treated?
Asthma is treated with medicine to help you breathe easier. Controller medicines are used to prevent asthma attacks. Quick-relief medicines are used when symptoms need to be treated fast. Treatment also includes things you can do to control your symptoms, like avoiding your triggers and following your asthma action plan.