March 23, 2011

Asthma - Symptom and Causes


When you have asthma, your airways narrow and swell. They produce extra mucus, and breathing becomes difficult. The most common asthma signs and symptoms are coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. For some people, asthma symptoms are a minor nuisance. For others, they're a major problem that interferes with daily activities. If you have severe asthma, you may be at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. 

Asthma can't be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Treatments include taking steps to avoid your particular asthma triggers, using long-term control medications to prevent flare-ups and using a quick-relief inhaler to control symptoms once they start. Because asthma changes over time, you'll work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust treatment as needed.


Asthma symptoms range from minor to severe and vary from person to person. You may have mild symptoms and asthma attacks may be infrequent. Between asthma flare-ups you may feel normal and have no trouble breathing. You may have symptoms primarily at night, during exercise or when you're exposed to specific triggers. Or you may have asthma symptoms all the time. Asthma signs and symptoms include:
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
  • Bouts of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as a cold or the flu
Signs that your asthma is probably getting worse include:
  • More frequent and bothersome asthma signs and symptoms
  • Increasing difficulty breathing (this can be measured by a peak flow meter, a simple device used to check how well your lungs are working)
  • An increasingly frequent need to use a quick-relief inhaler
For some people, asthma symptoms flare up in certain situations:
  • Exercise-induced asthma occurs during exercise. For many people, exercise-induced asthma is worse when the air is cold and dry.
  • Occupational asthma is asthma that's caused or worsened by breathing in a workplace irritant such as chemical fumes, gases or dust.
  • Allergy-induced asthma. Some people have asthma symptoms that are triggered by particular allergens, such as pet dander, cockroaches or pollen.
When to see a doctor
These key circumstances may lead you to talk to your doctor about asthma:
  • If you think you have asthma. If you have frequent coughing that lasts more than a few days or any other signs or symptoms of asthma, see your doctor. Treating asthma early, especially in children, may prevent long-term lung damage and help keep the condition from worsening over time.
  • To monitor your asthma after diagnosis. If you know you have asthma, work with your doctor to keep it under control. Good long-term asthma control not only helps you feel better on a daily basis, but also can prevent a life-threatening asthma attack.
  • If your asthma symptoms get worse. Contact your doctor right away if your medication doesn't seem to ease your symptoms or you need to use your quick-relief inhaler more and more often. Don't try to solve the problem by taking more medication without consulting your doctor. Overusing asthma medication can cause side effects and may even make your asthma worse.
  • To review your treatment. Asthma changes over time. Meet with your doctor on a regular basis to discuss your symptoms and make any needed adjustments to your treatment.
When to seek emergency treatment
Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Work with your doctor ahead of time to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen — and when you need emergency treatment. If your quick-relief medications don't relieve symptoms of a severe asthma attack, seek emergency help right away. Signs of an asthma emergency include:
  • Rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing
  • No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler such as albuterol
  • Shortness of breath when you are doing minimal physical activity


It isn't clear why some people get asthma and others don't, but it's probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.
Asthma triggers are different from person to person. Exposure to a number of different allergens and irritants can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma, including:
  • Airborne allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, cockroaches and dust mites
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Sulfites, preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat
  • Menstrual cycle in some women
  • Allergic reactions to some foods, such as peanuts or shellfish

Risk factors

Asthma is common, affecting millions of adults and children. A growing number of people are diagnosed with the condition each year, but it isn't clear why. A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. These include:
  • Having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma
  • Having an allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Being overweight
  • Being a smoker
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Having a mother who smoked while pregnant
  • Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing
  • Low birth weight
Exposure to allergens, exposure to certain germs, and having some types of bacterial or viral infections may also be risk factors. However, more research is needed to determine what role they may play in developing asthma.