Asthma symptoms

Symptoms of asthma are frequently episodic – what that means is that asthma patients may remain relatively free of asthma symptoms in-between their asthma attacks (a phrase used often for worsening of symptoms). Occurrence of asthma symptoms may be seasonal in many patients. However, in severe and long-standing cases, patients could continuously experience symptoms of asthma throughout the year. Some of the typical symptoms of asthma include:

1. Shortness of breath or breathing problems
During an asthma attack, shortness of breath (breathing problem) is the most distressing symptom.

  • Shortness of breath may get aggravated by even trivial exertion.
  • Breathing becomes harder and requires greater effort.
  • Breathing is often accompanied by tightness in neck muscles and occurrence of deep and prominent spaces between ribs.
  • Shortness of breath is usually associated with wheezing.
    Click here to hear shortness of breath during asthma.

2. Wheezing
During asthma, breathing has a ‘companion’ in the form of a whistling sound known as wheezing. Wheezing is musical and is audible even to a person sitting next to an asthma patient. Asthma patients experience wheezing typically after some physical activity such as running or climbing stairs.

Wheezing test:
a. Take a deep breath.
b. Close your ears with fingers.
c. Through mouth exhale fully to empty your lungs. During exhalation particularly during the latter part of expiration you may feel a musical sound. This is wheezing.
Click here to hear wheezing sound in asthma.

3. Cough and expectoration
Cough and expectoration are important asthma symptoms that often accompany shortness of breath and wheezing. Cough usually comes in bouts and may be accompanied by expectoration of thick and sticky sputum. The sputum is like a grain of wheat or gram and when pulled it stretches in the form of a thread. The patients often feel relieved after bringing out sputum.  Cough is an important indicator of asthma.

  • Cough may sometimes be the only symptom present in an asthma patient in the absence of other asthma symptoms.
  • Cough may be the first symptom of asthma attack after an asthma patient gets exposed to asthma triggers.
  • Cough persisting over ten days period without any disease may indicate asthma and necessitates health check up.

Click here to hear cough sound of an asthmatic patient.

4. Chest tightness
In addition to shortness of breath, wheezing and cough, asthma patients also experience tightness in chest. Chest tightness may be intermittent or continuous.

5. Frequently, nasal symptoms, such as, sneezing and runny nose may precede or accompany an asthma attack.

6. Often a person with asthma is intolerant of exercise, and experiences chronic fatigue from extra efforts of breathing or may even experience weight loss when the illness is severe.

Characteristic features of asthma symptoms

  • Asthma symptoms are highly variable. Some patients may have all of the above symptoms while others can have only a single symptom, such as a persistent cough or shortness of breath.
  • The frequency of asthma also varies from patient to patient. For example, some patients suffer from mild and occasional wheezing, once or twice a year. On the other hand, there are also patients who get symptoms all through the year. Or also those patients who get symptoms only in particular seasons.
  • The severity of asthma attacks also varies. An attack may be very mild requiring very little medication or it could be severe enough to require hospitalization and may even cause death.
  • The worst time of the day is usually early morning or at night.

Asthma symptoms sometimes look similar to the symptoms found in other diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, thus mere presence of cough, for example, does not necessarily indicate the presence of asthma.

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