The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends in their asthma guidelines that every asthmatic work with his or her doctor to create an asthma action plan specifically for the individual. A key part of this plan is understanding the signs and symptoms of asthma.
The signs and symptoms of asthma can be different for each asthmatic. Some signs and symptoms can be observed by others -- such as parents, grandparents, teachers, day care workers and friends -- while others can only be felt by the asthmatic.
Based on the signs and symptoms we experience -- or observe -- we can decide based on our asthma action plan what action to take next, such as what medicines to take, when to call the doctor and when to go directly to the emergency room.
According to NationalJewishHealth.org, your body gives you early warning signs of asthma, signs an attack is ongoing, and signs of severe asthma.
Early Warning Signs: These are signs that an asthma attack has not started yet, and actions you take can prevent an attack from coming (such as using your bronchodilator):
- Breathing changes
- Feeling tired
- Feel funny in chest
- Easily upset
- Feel week
- Eyes look glassy
- Dark circles under eyes
- Feel sad
- Get excited
- Stuffy nose
- Chin or throat itches
- Heart beats faster
- Change in sputum
- Runny nose
- Dry mouth
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor tolerance for exercise
- Downward trend in peak flows
Signs of acute asthma attack: These are signs that an asthma attack is going on right now, and action must be taken to prevent them from getting worse (Like getting the asthmatic away from what triggered the attack and use of bronchodilator).
Shortness of breath
Tightness in the chest
Peak flow numbers in the caution or danger range (usually 50% to 80% of personal best)
Signs of severe asthma episode: According to NationalJewishHealth.org, "Severe asthma symptoms are a life-threatening emergency. If any of these severe asthma symptoms occur, seek emergency medical treatment right away, since these symptoms indicate respiratory distress."
Severe coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest
Difficulty talking or concentrating
Walking causes shortness of breath
Breathing may be shallow and fast or slower than usual
Hunched shoulders (posturing)
Nasal flaring (nostril size increases with breathing)
Neck area and between or below the ribs moves inward with breathing (retractions)
Gray or bluish tint to skin, beginning around the mouth (cyanosis)
Peak flow numbers in the danger zone (usually below 50% of personal best)
When I learned about asthma signs and symptoms when I was a kid it greatly helped me control my asthma. Even today, while I don't let my asthma stop me from doing anything, when I observe my early warning signs I know it's time to stop and take action.