Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Editorial Board: Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Asthma Symptoms

Girl Covering Her Nose With Handkerchief While Sneezing Stock Photo

An asthmatic attack is one of the main medical emergencies. In an asthmatic attack, there is constriction or a tightening or the bronchial wall muscle, and a secretion of mucus, often with plugging of small air tubes, as well as inflammation and swelling of the bronchial lining. The frequency, period and severity of the asthmatic attack and its symptoms change from patient to patient.

Symptoms and Signs of An Asthma Attack

Although there are differences from patient to patient, the asthma attack is typically characterized by shortness of breath and wheezing. Cough and mucus production may be prominent symptoms.

In some patients, wheezing may not occur and a cough may be the dominant symptom. The patient demonstrates a rapid rate of breathing, often with heaving of the chest and use of neck muscles to assist each breath. During an attack, the patient is totally disabled. Even speech may be impossible due to severe breathlessness.

The patient may be totally consumed by the effort to breathe and become unable to eat or dress. The patient is often restless and unable to lie flat. Severe attacks can also end in exhaustion, with ominous slowing of the respiratory rate and arrest of breathing.

Depending on the severity of the patient’s disease, the attack may be totally or partially reversible, allowing the patient to assume normal activities between episodes. Patients with severe asthma, however, may remain to some degree symptomatic at all times.

It should be noted that the degree of wheezing can be misleading. The severity of the asthmatic attack and its symptoms should never be judged on this basis alone. Some patients who are capable of moving large amounts of air may produce more turbulence and audible wheezing than others who are so severely obstructed that their breaths are shallow and incapable of producing much sound.

Knowing Asthma Symptoms

In bronchial asthma, it is extremely essential to recognize the presence of an attack before it become severe and needs emergency measures. Each patient should have a means of assessing the degree of the asthma symptom that is present from day to day. In this manner, severe episodes and often the use of oral or injectable corticosteroids necessary for such emergencies can be avoided.

As an extension of this home monitoring, the patient should also be instructed how to respond to the presence of increased asthma symptoms. In this way, a contingency plan can be in place and ready before severe attacks happen.

There are generally 3 elements to defining asthma. 1st is airway obstruction, which is characterized by the narrowing of airways: air can no longer flow smoothly through the bronchial tubes. Since these tubes can dilate or open in asthma, this obstruction is called reversible, an important aspect of the definition since it may distinguish asthma from other bronchial illnesses.

The 2nd element in defining asthma is the presence of inflammation; the red, swollen appearance of the inside of the bronchial tubes. This characteristic of asthma has received a great deal of attention recently and has become the focus of much of the asthma therapy. The inflammation is present in the lining of the bronchial tubes, which can be examined by inserting into them a lighted scope called a bronchoscope.

The 3rd asthma symptom is increased responsiveness or hyperirritability of the bronchial tubes and their tendency to overreact and narrow. The term twitchy has also been used in this regard. This irritability is often demonstrated the sudden, severe attacks patients can experience when exposed to substances, such as pollen, animal dander, dust and fumes. 

This forms the basis for bronchial provocation or challenge testing that is used by doctors to diagnose asthma symptoms in patients whose illnesses do not fit easily into the other symptoms.