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Asthma – Symptoms and causes

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)


Know the basics

What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition where the air flow in and out of your lungs are limited from the inflammation fo the air way. the inflammation causes the muscles around the airways to tighten and triggers some symptoms It is a chronic condition that results in recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing. There is no cure for asthma, but the good news is it can be managed and treated so you can live a normal, healthy life.

How common is asthma?

Asthma is a common condition. An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The common symptoms of asthma are:

  • Chronic coughing. Coughing from asthma often is worse at night or early in the morning.
  • Wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling or squeaky sound that occurs when you breathe.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Chest tightness that may feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest and might lead to pain.
  • Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing.

Children with asthma often have chronic coughing, but other symptoms similar to asthma in adults might also appear such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

The types of asthma symptoms you have, how often they occur, and how severe they are may vary over time. Sometimes your symptoms may just annoy you. Other times, they may be troublesome enough to limit your daily routine.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor as soon ass symptoms appear so they don’t become severe. Severe symptoms can be fatal. If you have had a life-threatening asthma attack, you should see your doctor for suitable treatments. With proper treatments, symptoms of asthma can be avoided in both daytime and night time.

If your child has one or more of these common symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor:

  • Coughing that is constant or that is made worse by viral infections, happens while your child is asleep, or is triggered by exercise and cold air.
  • Wheezing or whistling sound when your child exhales.
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which may be associated with exercise.
  • Chest tightness (a young child may say that his chest “hurts” or “feels funny”).
  • Fatigue (your child may slow down or stop playing).
  • Problems feeding or grunting during feeding (infants).
  • Avoiding sports or social activities.
  • Problems sleeping due to coughing or difficulty breathing.

Know the causes

What causes asthma?

There is no known cause for asthma. However, there are some triggers that can make asthma symptoms appear or get worse:

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, cockroaches, mold, and pollens from trees, grasses, and flowers.
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust in the workplace, compounds in home décor products, and sprays (such as hairspray).
  • Medicines such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and nonselective beta-blockers.
  • Sulfites in foods and drinks.
  • Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds.
  • Physical activity, including exercise.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for asthma?

Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood. A combination of genetics and exposures to certain elements in the environment put people at the greatest risk of developing asthma for the first time.

  • Family history: If you have a parent with asthma, you are three to six times more likely to develop asthma than someone who does not have a parent with asthma.
  • Viral respiratory infections: Respiratory problems during infancy and childhood can cause wheezing. Some children who experience viral respiratory infections go on to develop chronic asthma.
  • Allergies: Having an allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) or allergic rhinitis (hay fever), is a risk factor for developing asthma.
  • Occupational exposures: If you have asthma, exposures to certain elements in the workplace can cause of asthma symptoms. And, for some people, exposure to certain dusts (industrial or wood dusts), chemical fumes and vapors, and molds can cause asthma to develop for the very first time.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoke irritates the airways. Smokers have a high risk of asthma. Those whose mothers smoked during pregnancy or who were exposed to secondhand smoke are also more likely to have asthma.
  • Air pollution: The main component of smog (ozone) exposure raises the risk for asthma. Those who grew up or live in urban areas have a higher risk for asthma.
  • Obesity: Children and adults who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of asthma. Although the reasons are unclear, some experts point to low-grade inflammation in the body that occurs with extra weight. Obese patients often use more medications, suffer worse symptoms and are less able to control their asthma than patients in a healthy weight range.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma is diagnosed by checking medical history and performing breathing tests to measure how well your lungs work. Your doctor will listen to your breathing and look for signs of asthma or allergies. These signs include wheezing, a runny nose or swollen nasal passages, and allergic skin conditions. Many people with asthma also have allergies, so your doctor may perform allergy testing.

Your doctor might also run some tests to determine your conditions. The level of severity will determine what treatment you’ll start on. Some common tests include:

  • Spirometry: This test measures how much air you can breathe in and out. It also measures how fast you can blow air out.
  • Bronchoprovocation test: A test to measure how sensitive your airways are.
  • A test to show whether you have another condition with the same symptoms as asthma, such as reflux disease, vocal cord dysfunction, or sleep apnea.
  • A chest x-ray or an EKG (electrocardiogram). These tests will help find out whether a foreign object or other disease may be causing your symptoms.

How is asthma treated?

Currently, there is no treatment for asthma, but you can manage the symptoms by taking medications and changing your lifestyle. This involves taking your medications as directed and learning to avoid triggers that cause your asthma symptoms.

By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can:

  • Breathe better
  • Do more of the things you want to do
  • Have fewer asthma symptoms


Some medications commonly used for taken daily and include inhaled corticosteroids (fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA), budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler), mometasone (Asmanex), ciclesonide (Alvesco), flunisolide (Aerobid), beclomethasone (Qvar) and others).

Leukotriene modifiers are oral medications that include montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate) and zileuton (Zyflo, Zyflo CR).

Quick-relief or rescue medications are used to quickly relax and open the airways and relieve symptoms during an asthma flare-up, or are taken before exercising if prescribed. These include: short-acting beta-agonists. These inhaled bronchodilator (brong-koh-DIE-lay-tur) medications include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, others), levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA) and pirbuterol (Maxair Autohaler).

Oral and intravenous corticosteroids may be required for acute asthma flare-ups or for severe symptoms. Examples include prednisone and methylprednisolone.


Combination inhalers contain an inhaled corticosteroid plus a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA). LABAs are symptom-controllers that are helpful in opening your airways.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage asthma?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with asthma:

  • If you are pregnant, you may be hesitant about taking medications, including those for asthma. This can be a mistake for your health and that of your baby-to-be.
  • Avoiding things that worsen your asthma (asthma triggers).
  • Take your medication on time and finish your prescription:
    • Make a medicine schedule showing what you take and when.
    • Ask a friend or family member to help you organize your “system”.
    • Connect taking your medicine with your routine habits, such as before or after certain meals or when you brush your teeth in the morning or evening.
    • Set an alarm to ring.
    • Use a weekly pill box that has sections for each day and different times of the day.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

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