Asthma

  • Alternative Names

    Bronchial asthma; Exercise-induced asthma


    Symptoms

    Most people with asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Some people have long-term shortness of breath with episodes of increased shortness of breath. Either wheezing or a cough may be the main symptom.

    Asthma attacks can last for minutes to days, and can become dangerous if the airflow is severely restricted.

    Symptoms include:

    • Cough with or without sputum (phlegm) production
    • Pulling in of the skin between the ribs when breathing (intercostal retractions)
    • Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise or activity
    • Wheezing, which:
      • Comes in episodes with symptom-free periods in between
      • May be worse at night or in early morning
      • May go away on its own
      • Gets better when using drugs that open the airways (bronchodilators)
      • Gets worse when breathing in cold air
      • Gets worse with exercise
      • Gets worse with heartburn (reflux)
      • Usually begins suddenly

    Emergency symptoms:

    • Bluish color to the lips and face
    • Decreased level of alertness, such as severe drowsiness or confusion, during an asthma attack
    • Extreme difficulty breathing
    • Rapid pulse
    • Severe anxiety due to shortness of breath
    • Sweating

    Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:

    • Abnormal breathing pattern --breathing out takes more than twice as long as breathing in
    • Breathing temporarily stops
    • Chest pain
    • Tightness in the chest

    Signs and tests

    Allergy testing may be helpful to identify allergens in people with persistent asthma. Common allergens include:

    • Cockroach allergens
    • Dust mites
    • Molds
    • Pet dander
    • Pollens

    Common respiratory irritants include:

    • Fumes from burning wood or gas
    • Pollution
    • Tobacco smoke

    The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the lungs. Asthma-related sounds may be heard. However, lung sounds are usually normal between asthma episodes.

    Tests may include:

    • Arterial blood gas
    • Blood tests to measure eosinophil count (a type of white blood cell) and IgE (a type of immune system protein called an immunoglobulin)
    • Chest x-ray
    • Lung function tests
    • Peak flow measurements