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Signs and symptoms of Asthma

Team AckoDec 12, 2023

Asthma is a non-communicable disease, meaning you cannot get it from another person. It develops in adults and children alike. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it was diagnosed in around 26.2 crore people and, unfortunately, brought about over 4.5 lakh deaths worldwide in 2019. Being such a prevalent disease, it is important to be aware of Asthma’s symptoms to prevent it from worsening if it develops. Read ahead as we elaborate on this chronic disease’s signs, causes treatments and prevention tips.




What is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disease that gives rise to frequent wheezing and breathlessness. It comes about when there is a narrowing in the airways of the lungs caused by muscle tightening or excess mucus clogging. Based on its severity, for some people, it can be a minor inconvenience, and for others, it can be a life-threatening condition.

What is an Asthma attack?

An Asthma attack is also known as Asthma exacerbation. It is usually caused by the tightening of muscles in the airways. The following are some of the common Asthma attack symptoms.

  • Your doctor-prescribed inhaler doesn’t seem to be effective anymore.

  • Your usual Asthma symptoms are worsening.

  • Shortness of breath and rapid breathing that affects your sleep and speech.

  • There is a continuous decrease in your peak flow score.

  • Frequent coughing. 

  • Bluish lips or fingernails.

  • Getting easily tired while exercising. 

  • A feeling of tightness in your chest.

  • Experiencing anxiety or a panic attack.

Why does an Asthma attack occur?

An Asthma attack usually occurs due to the following reasons.

  • Mucus production: Mucus is produced in the airways and clogs it, and makes it difficult for air to pass through.

  • Bronchospasm: The muscles of the airways in the lungs tighten and become narrow. Thus, air cannot move freely through them.

  • Inflammation: The airways swell up and restrict air movement in or out of the lungs.

What are the types of Asthma?

Based on the severity and cause, Asthma is classified into the following two types.

  • Intermittent: This type of Asthma comes and goes. So, there are phases of normalcy in between the Asthma episodes.

  • Persistent: This type of Asthma is more continuous and has varying levels of severity. Severity is usually judged based on the frequency of symptoms and your ability to cope during attacks.

Asthma is categorised into the following two types based on age. 

  • Adult-onset: This starts only after you cross the age of 18 years.

  • Paediatric: Also referred to as childhood asthma, this type develops before the age of five. Fortunately, some children are able to outgrow this disease as they get older.

Based on triggers, the following are the different types of Asthma.

  • Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS): This type of Asthma is diagnosed when Asthma occurs in unison with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Both these diseases affect the lungs and make it difficult to breathe.

  • Occupational asthma: This Asthma type occurs in individuals who work in environments that contain irritants that can trigger the disease.

  • Exercise-induced asthma: Also referred to as exercise-induced bronchospasm, this type of Asthma is triggered while doing exercise.

Early warning signs and symptoms of Asthma

The following are the common Asthma symptoms during its early stages. They are similar to the symptoms of other respiratory conditions.

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tiredness while exercising

  • Tightness in the chest

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty in sleeping

Asthma symptoms in children

Since this disease has similar symptoms as other viral diseases that affect the lungs, identifying it in children is difficult. Nevertheless, the following are some of the common Asthma symptoms that are seen in children.

  • The aggravation of the child’s coughing in cold weather.

  • Breathing difficulty while playing or engaging in exercise.

  • Coughing, wheezing and breathlessness that affects the child’s sleep.

  • If the child takes a long time to recover from a viral infection.

  • If viral infections lead to the development of bronchitis.

What are the causes of Asthma?

It is still unknown why Asthma develops in some and not others. Nevertheless, the following factors are known to induce Asthma in certain individuals.

  • Genetics: If this condition runs in your family, there is a high probability you will develop it too.

  • Allergies: There are certain allergens, like a pet’s hair, pollens, dust mites, etc., that can trigger this condition.

  • Respiratory infections: Infections like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can damage the developing lungs of little children and bring about this condition.

  • Environmental factors: Exposure to toxins and fumes, especially tobacco smoking, can cause the onset of Asthma.

How to diagnose Asthma

The following are the common lung function tests used to diagnose Asthma.

  • Spirometry: A spirometer is a device that is connected to a computer and measures the amount of air you are able to inhale and exhale. A spirometry test involves you breathing forcefully into a spirometer to record your readings.

  • FeNO test: Also referred to as exhaled nitric oxide testing, this test measures the extent of inflammation in the lungs. When Asthma-caused inflammation occurs in the lungs, nitric oxide is produced. This test uses the produced gas to determine the amount of inflammation.

  • Provocation tests: If all other tests show normal results but there are telltale signs of Asthma, your doctor may prescribe this test. In this test, you will be given safe doses of a substance that will cause a reaction only in individuals suffering from Asthma.

Treatments for Asthma

The following are the most popular treatments for Asthma.

  • Anti-inflammatory medication: These types of medicines reduce inflammation and mucus production in the airways of the lungs. Thus, it makes it easier for you to breathe. This type of medication is usually advised to be taken on a daily basis to manage the symptoms of chronic Asthma.

  • Bronchodilators: These types of medicines help to make the muscles in the airways of the lungs relax. Thus, it becomes easier for air to move freely while breathing. These medications are usually prescribed for individuals suffering from chronic and intermittent Asthma.

  • Biologic therapies: This type of treatment is prescribed only after the disease has started resisting the effects of inhalers.

  • Bronchial thermoplasty: This treatment causes the soft muscles of the lungs to shrink and thereby counteract the tightness caused by Asthma. This treatment usually occurs in three sessions, spaced three weeks apart from one another.

Prevention of Asthma

You can try to prevent Asthma by doing the following.

  • Regularly involve yourself in sports and exercise.

  • Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia.

  • Quit smoking and stay away while others smoke.

  • Try to identify and avoid allergens that may trigger Asthma.

  • Detect and treat Asthma symptoms at the earliest.

  • Consume your doctor-prescribed medication regularly.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most commonly asked Asthma-related questions.

What is cyanosis?


Cyanosis is a bluish discolouration in the lips and skin caused by insufficient oxygenation of the blood. This is a common side effect of severe Asthma.

What is wheezing?


Wheezing is a whistle-like sound that is produced by blocked airways in the lungs. It is a common symptom of Asthma.

What is a peak flow metre?


It is an instrument that measures the quantity of air that you can exhale from your lungs. This test is only used to monitor Asthma improvement and is not used to diagnose the disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of bronchial Asthma?


The common signs and symptoms of bronchial Asthma include the following.

  • Excessive coughing

  • Wheezing

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Tightness in the chest

Is Asthma a curable disease?


No, Asthma is not a curable disease. However, it can be treated and managed.

Can a blood test be used to reveal the presence of Asthma?


Yes, a blood test can be used to reveal the presence of Asthma. This is possible because allergic antibodies in the blood can be detected through a blood test.

What is an Asthma action plan?


An Asthma action plan is a personalised worksheet that has all the steps you need to follow to keep your Asthma at bay.

Do viruses trigger Asthma?


Yes, viruses like influenza and pneumonia are known to trigger Asthma in certain individuals.

What are the common signs and symptoms of Asthma?


The common signs and symptoms of Asthma include the following.

  • Cough (usually aggravates during the night)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Inability to exercise effectively

  • Wheezing

  • Tightness in the chest


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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