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Asthma is a common respiratory condition that affects up to ten percent of the American population. It is a complex syndrome characterized by chronic airway inflammation, hyper reactivity and obstruction. Factors that contribute to the development of asthmatic symptoms include a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors. These include a family history of allergies, a personal tendency for hay fever, exposure to allergens, cigarette smoke, chemicals and air pollution, viral illnesses, obesity, and low socioeconomic status.

Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are the classic signs and symptoms of asthma.

These symptoms tend to come in episodes and may recur after long periods. Some patients also complain of chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and trouble sleeping. However, these symptoms are nonspecific, and may be seen in other conditions. Manifestations that might suggest that you may be suffering from a condition other than asthma include symptoms like fatigue, palpitations, lightheadedness and chest discomfort. If your condition does not improve with asthma treatment, then you may need further evaluation to consider other causes.

On physical examination, a doctor may hear wheezes (high pitched whistling sounds) in your lungs, but otherwise, you may seem completely normal. In an asthma attack, your breathing rate increases, your heart rate rises, and your breathing effort increases. Signs of worsening condition include increased difficulty breathing and greater need to use inhalers for quick relief.

Some people do not have the usual symptoms of asthma (coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath). They may experience unusual symptoms that may not appear to be due to asthma. These include:

  • rapid breathing
  • fatigue
  • sighing
  • anxiety
  • chronic cough but no wheezing
  • trouble exercising properly
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty concentrating

Other conditions such as vocal cord disorder, bronchitis, allergic reaction, and heart failure may also mimic the symptoms of asthma.

How To Reduce Asthma Symptoms

You can avoid asthma triggers to reduce the likelihood of getting unpleasant symptoms. These include:

  • Using the air conditioner to reduce your exposure to airborne pollen and dust mites and to lower indoor humidity.
  • Reducing contact with house dust.
  • Removing carpets and installing hardwood flooring.
  • Using washable blinds and curtains.
  • Maintaining optimal humidity at home and in the office.
  • Preventing the growth of molds at home by cleaning damp areas.
  • Reducing exposure to pet dander.
  • Cleaning your home regularly.
  • Covering your mouth and nose in cold weather.

When To See A Doctor

Contact your doctor if you are experiencing cough, wheezing and shortness of breath that lasts more than a few days. It is best to treat asthma early to prevent lung damage and other complications. It is also possible that your symptoms may be related to another condition, which is best diagnosed and treated properly.

Seek emergency treatment if your symptoms seem to worsen. These may include difficulty breathing, worsening of wheezing, and shortness of breath while doing light activities. If your symptoms do not improve in spite of using an inhaler, you may need immediate medical attention.

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