If you haven't seen a doctor yet or been diagnosed with asthma, the following
four signs are very good indictors that you might have asthma:
- Coughing — sometimes waking you at night.
- Wheezing — a whistling sound during breathing (especially breathing
out), which can start as a low whistle and get higher pitched.
- Difficulty breathing — this can include shortness of breath, feeling
breathless, gasping for air, difficulty breathing out, or breathing faster
than usual. When breathing becomes very difficult, the skin of the chest
and neck may suck inward.
- Chest tightness
Even if you have only one of these signs -- like chronic coughing -- it may
be due to asthma. These signs can be due to other health conditions -- asthma
is not always the cause. Other symptoms, like sweating or rapid heart rate,
may be present. Diagnosis can be difficult because symptoms vary from person
to person, and even a single individual's symptoms can change over time. In
fact, many cases of asthma are misdiagnosed as chronic
bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and other illnesses.
The "asthma signs" alone are not enough to diagnose asthma. A doctor must
use the proper assessment tests to make the correct diagnosis. One of the key
tests is taking spirometry measurements before and after you inhale a bronchodilator.
(This indicates whether the airflow obstruction is reversible.)
Once you know or suspect you have asthma, keep track of when the signs appear,
as this may help you figure out what is triggering the episodes. Record your
signs in a record chart to monitor your asthma on an ongoing basis, as described
Early warning signs
When any of the four major signs listed above are getting progressively worse,
you may actually be having an asthma episode (asthma attack). However, there
are other possible signs that can serve as an early warning that an asthma
episode is approaching. These include an itchy neck, dark bags under the eyes,
and feeling tired, irritable, or excitable. Other early warning signs are possible
and vary by individual.
Call 911 or go to the hospital immediately if any of these danger signs occur:
- Trouble walking or talking because of difficulty breathing
- Hunching over
- Lips or fingernails are blue or gray
- Slow breathing
These are signs of an extreme medical emergency. In the case of children with
asthma, the parents, teachers, and other supervising adults should know to
look for these signs.
Review Date: 5/16/2007
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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