Asthma is a common lung problem that causes breathing difficulties for people of all ages, though most people develop the condition in childhood. The severity of an asthma attack varies from person to person and even event to event. Luckily, fewer than one in 20 people with asthma require specialist care. Most control the condition and its symptoms with inhalers and medication.
Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of asthma. The muscles around the airways tense, causing the airways to narrow, which can result in bronchospasms and airway inflammation. The body creates mucus to address this reaction, and the lungs become less efficient in transferring oxygen to the small blood vessels on the surface of the lungs.
Asthma-induced coughing is often most prevalent at night, usually manifesting as a dry cough that does not expel mucus. This symptom can disrupt sleep, leaving affected individuals fatigued the next day. Experts have yet to reach a consensus regarding exactly what causes the cough to worsen during the night. Some theorize it may be a result of increased exposure to allergens, the sleep position, or hormones secreted at night. Sleeping with the head of the bed raised helps prevent coughing due to asthma.
Wheezing often develops in conjunction with shortness of breath, coughing, and tightness in the chest. People with asthma may develop an audible whistling noise when they inhale and exhale. This symptom is not exclusive to asthma; many respiratory conditions can cause wheezing.
Intolerance of Cigarette Smoke
While many people find cigarette smoke intolerable, secondhand smoke can severely affect people with asthma. The chemicals in cigarette smoke irritate the lungs, causing constriction of the airways. Medical evidence suggests that these chemicals can cause more lasting damage. Car exhaust fumes and pollutants in the air can cause similar irritation.
Feeling the Change of Seasons
Some people develop pollen-induced asthma during seasonal changes when hay fever is common. The trigger, pollen from plants, can be difficult to avoid, making these types of attacks more frequent and hard to prevent. When hay fever has already irritated the lungs, this further exacerbates the symptoms.
Tightness in the Chest
Tightness throughout the chest, that sensation that a belt is tightening around the ribs, is a common symptom of asthma. The pressure may be continuous or come and go and can be quite severe. This symptom can affect the neck as well. The chest tightness can make it difficult to take a deep breath.
Doctors may prescribe asthma medications to people showing symptoms, even if they do not have a definitive asthma diagnosis. This preventive prescription is usually considered safe for otherwise healthy people. If the treatment relieves the symptoms, the person likely has asthma. The danger of this approach occurs if the medications mask the presence of another respiratory condition.
Lips or Fingers Turning Blue
Changes in lip and finger color occur when the body is deprived of oxygen. This symptom is easiest to identify in individuals with light skin. Though asthma can explain this sign, many other issues can also lead to bluish lips and fingers, including high altitudes, chronic lung disease, a blood clot, blockage of arteries, and heart disease. Even when asthma is the cause, the symptom suggests a severe attack, and immediate medical attention is essential.
A severe asthma attack can lead to unconsciousness when the flow of oxygen to the brain is interrupted. Excessive coughing may also place the nervous system under sudden strain, leading to a rapid fall in blood pressure. Individuals who feel faint for any reason should sit or lie down immediately to avoid injury if they do lose consciousness. Asthma symptoms associated with fainting, near fainting, and dizziness require immediate medical evaluation. A severe asthma attack accompanied by these symptoms can potentially lead to brain injury or even death.
Since asthma reduces the supply of oxygen in the blood, it can leave people feeling confused and dizzy. Many factors can cause this symptom, including diabetes and prescription medications. Anyone experiencing prolonged dizziness needs immediate medical attention.