The primary symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness, or shortness of breath. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and most of the time can be well controlled. In some cases, problems are persistent and more difficult to manage.
Those with asthma occasionally suffer from ‘asthma attacks’, which is when their symptoms suddenly or gradually worsen. If these attacks are severe, the person may require hospital treatment. In rare cases, these attacks are life-threatening.
Asthma symptoms range from mild to severe in quality. These mainly include:
- A wheezing or whistling sound when you breathe
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness – when the chest feels like a band is tightening around it
Asthma symptoms tend to be worse in the evening and first thing in the morning, more so when the condition is not well controlled with treatment. Triggers like allergens or exercise can bring on or worsen symptoms, also.
An asthma attack is what happens when asthma symptoms significantly worsen. This can happen slowly, over a course of days, or more quickly, with attacks coming on suddenly and unexpectedly.
An attack may cause your inhaler medication not to work as well as it usually does. If you are monitoring your asthma with a peak flow meter, an attack will be preceded by a drop in peak expiratory flow.
If you suspect that you or your child is having an asthma attack, contact a doctor or clinic as soon as possible. If the attack is particularly severe, you may experience:
- Your inhaler is not relieving your symptoms as much as usual, or at all
- Severe and constant wheezing, coughing, and/or chest tightness
- Severe breathlessness affecting eating, speaking, or sleeping
- Drowsiness, exhaustion, dizziness
- Increased respiratory rate (faster breathing)
- Increased or rapid heartbeat
- Cyanosis of lips or fingers (skin turns blue)
In the case of a severe asthma attack, call 999 to seek immediate help.
For most people with asthma, the treatments that are currently available are effective and will allow you to keep the condition from restricting your life.
The most common form of treatment for asthma is an inhaler – a device that delivers medicine directly into your lungs as you breathe in. This is a fast and effective form of treatment because it allows the medication to go straight to your lungs. The doctor will train you in how to use an inhaler – there are different kinds and they all work slightly differently. Some contain pressurised canisters, which spray the medicine in vapour form. Others contain a dry powder form of the medication, usually in a capsule, which the inhaler punctures.
The pressurised canister inhalers work more effectively if given through a spacer, which is a hollow plastic or metal container with a mouthpiece at one end, and a hole for the inhaler at the other. Spacers can be attached to face masks for children under three, to aid them with breathing in the medicine. With the spacer delivery, the inhaler vapour is released into the container, which you then slowly breathe in, until your lungs are full, and then hold your breath to allow it to fully settle in your lungs.
Other asthma treatments include various kinds of inhalers, oral medicines, surgery, and breathing exercises.”
Asthma is the result of inflammation of the bronchi of the lungs (small tubes which carry air in and out). Asthma makes these bronchi more inflamed and sensitive than normal.
The airways of the lungs can be triggered by irritants (also known as triggers), causing the muscles around the airways to tighten and produce sticky phlegm or mucus.
These asthma triggers or irritants include:
- Dust / dust mites
- Cigarette smoke
- Viral infections
- Pet dander and fur
Other substances in your work or home environment (allergens or chemicals) may also trigger asthma. If you notice a pattern to the severity of your symptoms (worse at work or better when on holiday), speak to one of our doctors.
What to do next
If you already know you have asthma and would like advice on managing the condition, or if you are suffering from symptoms which may be asthma, do not hesitate to book an appointment with one of our experienced doctors who can help you. Call us or use our online booking system.
Different people will have different triggers for their asthma attacks. Some common triggers include pet hair and dander, colds and viruses, dust, and other environmental factors. Knowing your personal triggers can definitely help you avoid having attacks.
No. Asthma is a chronic condition which may require daily monitoring. Proper treatment can alleviate symptoms but the disease needs ongoing management.
Yes. Speak to the doctor about how best to ensure that you are able to participate in physical activity whilst safely managing your condition.