The symptoms of asthma vary greatly among individuals; and at times, attacks can vary, even for the same person. Your ability to recognize the early signs and symptoms that initially appear prior to an attack is critical if you wish to avoid an emergency room visit. When you notice these signs, you should heed the advice of your Doctor and follow a professionally directed action plan.
Before a full-blown asthma attack, there are usually early signs and symptoms you should be able to easily recognize. Irritation of the nose and throat, thirst, and the increased need to urinate are all common symptoms that may occur before an asthma attack. Each person has his or her own peculiar pattern of early symptoms, and most often, these symptoms progress to a severe respiratory distress episode if not properly treated.
The classic symptoms of an actual attack include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Wheezing when exhaling is very common during an attack. Often the attack begins with wheezing and rapid breathing and, as respiratory airways constrict and tighten, all breathing muscles become visibly active.
Some people first experience this chest tightness or pain. Chest pain occurs in about 75% of asthmatics; it can be very severe and its intensity is unrelated to the severity of the attack itself. The neck muscles may tense and talking may become difficult or impossible. The end of an attack is often marked by a cough that produces a thick, stringy mucus. After an acute attack, inflammation can persist for a few days up to several weeks. This inflammation is most often left untreated since it is usually symptomless. But, it is this asymptomatic inflammation that must be treated in order to prevent long term respiratory damage or relapse.
The most common asthmatic symptoms are:
Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
If you experience breathlessness after laughing or speaking long sentences, you could have asthma. In rare instances, you may find that you feel the need to inhale before you have finished breathing out.
This is the whistling sound sometimes heard when you breathe. It indicates airway narrowing and it could be present on inhalation or exhalation. (Please recognize that not all asthmatics wheeze and not all wheezing indicates an asthmatic condition.)
Exercise induced breathlessness
If physical exertion (playing a sport, walking up a flight of stairs, rapid physical exertion, etc.) makes you short of breath, then this could be an indication of asthma.
Tight chested feeling
This sensation feels like a tight band across your chest – like an elastic band or a heavy weight resting on your chest. Your ability to fully inhale is limited and, in advanced situations, painful. Sometimes this tightness is exacerbated in cold weather.
Excessive mucus production
Gurgling or rattling during inhalation or exhalation plus coughing up a lot of white frothy mucus is common in asthmatic individuals. Sometimes this mucous will be thick in consistency and yellow or green in color.
A recurring, irritating cough is frequently a sign of asthma. This persistent cough usually occurs in the cool air, at night, or after exercise.
When air is trapped in the airways due to inflammation, the surrounding membrane stretches, and causes pain. Advanced cases can often lead to complicated situations involving conditions similar to emphysema.
Nasal Congestion and drainage Nasal congestion and a runny nose are often accompanying features of asthma. Rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) is often called asthma of the nose.
Disturbed Sleep Patterns
An inability to sleep due to snoring or repeated awakening during the night could be an asthma symptom. Other conditions also display this condition, so this symptom alone should not be considered conclusive.
Feeling very tired is quite usual for asthmatics. It is often the result of interrupted sleep patterns, diminished oxygen supply to the blood and availability to the body tissues, plus the build up of muscular lactic acid which results in generalized muscle fatigue.
The Early Warning Signs:
Even mild asthmatics can have severe attacks and therefore it is important to recognize the early signs so that you can take appropriate action.
- Your reliever (puffer) is no longer as effective and you need to use it more frequently than every 3-4 hours.
- The wheeze improves or even disappears but there is no improvement in your ability to breathe.
- You have real difficulty in speaking complete sentences without stopping to take a breath.
- You start to turn a blue to gray color, especially around the lips and fingertips. This is a condition called cyanosis and indicates that you have insufficient oxygen levels in your circulating blood.
- You become anxious to the point of being frightened.
- Thinking clearly becomes difficult.
- Every breath becomes increasingly difficult.
The best advice we could possibly give you is, Never ignore an asthma attack in the hope that it will get better or go away. If problems persist, seek qualified medical attention and follow a professionally directed recovery and treatment plan.