A woman sitting at a desk and holding her chest.

Persistent Coughing and Wheezing? Talk to Your Doctor About Asthma

How Do You Know if You Have Asthma?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asthma affects about 339 million individuals worldwide. It has also been found to be prevalent among young people. Since it affects many people, you may wonder, how do you know if you have asthma?

Asthma refers to a condition where a person has difficulty breathing. This occurs when the airways narrow and swell, leading to the production of extra mucus. It often manifests with reactions like coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing), and shortness of breath when breathing out.

Asthma can be mild in some cases, and severe in others, especially when it interferes with daily activities. It can also lead to an asthma attack, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. According to medical experts, asthma cannot be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled.

Different Types of Asthma

There are several types of asthma, but the following are the most common:

  • Status asthmaticus: This type of asthma comes with long-lasting asthma attacks that remain persistent until you make use of bronchodilators. It is considered a medical emergency and need urgent treatment.
  • Adult-onset asthma: This is a type of asthma that appears once you an adult. Although asthma can start at any age, it's more common in people younger than 40.
  • Asthma in children: Symptoms can vary from time to time in the same child. However, the following problems are most prevalent: persistent cough, less energy, shallow breathing, tightness in the chest, whistling sound when breathing, shortness of breath, tightness in the neck and chest muscles, and fatigue.
  • Exercise-induced asthma: This usually happens during a physical activity when you breathe in air that is drier than what is in your body. It also affects non-asthmatic people, but usually lasts for roughly 10–15 minutes.
  • Eosinophilic asthma: This is a severe form of asthma marked by high levels of white blood cells called eosinophils. It usually common with adults between 35–50 years old.
  • Nocturnal asthma: In this type, asthma symptoms get worse at night.
  • Aspirin-induced asthma: Some people begin to have asthma symptoms when they take aspirin.
  • Cough-variant asthma: Unlike with other types, the only symptom of this kind of asthma is a long-term cough.
  • Allergic asthma: Some things like dust, pollen, and pet dander can trigger allergies and cause asthma attacks.
  • Nonallergic asthma: This type of asthma can occur as a result of extreme weather conditions (such as extreme heat or cold), and when you are stressed.
  • Occupational asthma: This usually affects people who work around chemical fumes, dust, or other particles in the air that can cause irritation.

Common Symptoms That Indicate Asthma

How do you know if you have asthma? Paying attention to possible symptoms is important.

People with asthma usually have symptoms when their airways tighten, inflame, or are filled with mucus. Because asthma often changes over time, it's important that you work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust your treatment as necessary. Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and it is possible that you may not have all the symptoms or only have them at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one and severe during another.

Sometimes, people with asthma may not even experience symptoms for a long period of time, or only during vigorous exercises or if they get a viral infection like a common cold.

However, the following symptoms, in most cases, can indicate that you have asthma:

  • Persistent cough, usually at night or in the morning
  • Severe wheezing when breathing in and out
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Tightness or pain in the chest and neck
  • Rapid breathing and difficulty talking
  • Unusual feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Paleness and sweaty face
  • Blue lips or fingernails

When to See a Doctor

If you have frequent coughing or wheezing that lasts more than a few days, or any other signs or symptoms of asthma that keep persisting, book an appointment with your doctor.

If your medication does not help ease your symptoms or if you always feel the need to use your quick-relief inhaler more often, then you should see a doctor right away. Urgent attention to suspected asthma cases may help to prevent long-term lung damage and help keep the condition from getting worse in the long run.

The Bottom Line

Like most health conditions, asthma can be managed, if you adhere strictly to the use of your medications and proven medical advice. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Work with your doctor to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen and when you need emergency treatment.

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