Asthma currently affects over 610 000 people in New Zealand. This number is not accurate because many people may not be aware that they have it, especially if their symptoms aren’t severe. Although you might imagine that having this condition must be obvious, asthma signs can be surprisingly subtle. Here are five to keep in mind.
The purpose of a cough is to remove foreign particles and bacteria to prevent a possible infection. In most cases, having a cough does not mean that you have asthma. However, persistent cough that never really goes away can be a sign of asthma. On the other hand, coughing may be triggered by exposure to some triggers like dust, strong fragrances, or cold air. People with asthma might start coughing or sneezing around cats and when they step in into a dusty room. Rarely, cough can be the only sign of asthma but often it is accompanied by wheezing. This is a high-pitched whistling sound caused by a constricted airway.
Shortness of breath refers to feeling breathless or having difficulty breathing. It may be described as: "Being air hungry", "Unable to catch a breath", "Gasping for breath", “Can’t take a deep breath”.
There’s nothing strange about the shortness of breath during exercises. But if you get breathless doing normal things, like walking at a typical pace or doing household chores it can be a sign of asthma or other health conditions.
People with asthma often suffer from nighttime coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness that disturb their sleep. This could happen due to physiological changes in our body related to sleep, temperature changes during the night or because of contact with dust mites living inside the bed.
Wheezing occurs when the small airways of the lungs become narrow or constricted. This makes it difficult to breathe and can cause a whistling sound when breathing out. Wheezing can be a symptom of asthma, but asthma isn't the only cause of wheeze.
If you have asthma, catching a cold may worsen or trigger your symptoms. Even a mild cold can lead to wheezing and tightness in your chest. Colds and the flu are among the most common causes of asthma flare-ups.
If you find that you tend to be very sick when you catch a cold while your friends seem to have a mild running nose and cough which are easy to manage with over the counter medicine, it is worth to check yourself for asthma.
What to do if you suspect asthma.
The best option if you suspect that you have asthma is to visit your doctor. To find out whether you have asthma or not, the doctor probably will put you through some lung tests (spirometry), which checks how much air you can exhale after taking a deep breath along with how fast you can expel air. Another test for asthma is a peak flow test, which measures how hard you can breathe out.
If you or someone you love is diagnosed with asthma, do not panic. Millions of people have asthma and successfully manage it with a healthy lifestyle and medication. There are many talented Olympic Games winners who have asthma. And asthma is not a barrier to live a full life. Nowadays, we know a lot more about asthma and with some help of medicine, we can live a normal life despite asthma.
Asthma is different for everyone, but if you have it, you can manage it that can change your life for the better.