Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and may produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, a whistling sound (wheezing) when you breathe out and shortness of breath.
Symptoms of Asthma
The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing, a squealing or whistling sound made when you breathe.
Other asthma symptoms may include:
- coughing, especially at night, when laughing, or during exercise
- tightness in the chest
- shortness of breath
- difficulty talking
- anxiousness or panic
The type of asthma that you have can determine which symptoms you experience.
Not everyone with asthma will experience these particular symptoms. If you think the symptoms you’re experiencing could be a sign of a condition such as asthma, make an appointment to see your doctor.
The first indication that you have asthma may not be an actual asthma attack.
Types of Asthma
Asthma can occur in many different ways and for many different reasons, but the triggers are often the same. They include airborne pollutants, viruses, pet dander, mold, and cigarette smoke.
The sections below list some common types of asthma.
Asthma is the most common chronic condition in children. It can develop at any age, but it is slightly more common in children than in adults.
2. Adult-onset asthma
Asthma can develop at any age, including during adulthood. According to one 2013 study, adults are more likely than children to have persistent symptoms.
Some factors that affect the risk of developing asthma in adulthood include:
- respiratory illness
- allergies and exposure to allergens
- hormonal factors
3. Occupational asthma
Occupational asthma results from exposure to an allergen or irritant present in the workplace.
In the following workplaces, allergens may cause asthma in those with a sensitivity or allergy:
- bakeries, flour mills, and kitchens
- hospitals and other healthcare settings
- pet shops, zoos, and laboratories where animals are present
- farms and other agricultural settings
In the following occupations, irritants can trigger asthma symptoms:
- car repairs and manufacturing
- engineering and metalwork
- woodwork and carpentry
- electronics and assembly industries
- hairdressing salons
- indoor swimming pools
Those with a higher risk include people who:
- have allergic rhinitis
- have a history of asthma or environmental allergies
A person’s work environment can trigger a return of childhood asthma or the start of adult-onset asthma.
Difficult-to-control and severe asthma
Research suggests that around 5–10% of people with asthma have severe asthma.
Some people have severe symptoms for reasons that do not relate directly to asthma. For example, they may not yet have learned the correct way to use an inhaler.
Others have severe refractory asthma. In these cases, the asthma does not respond to treatment — even with high dosages of medication or the correct use of inhalers. This type of asthma may affect 3.6% of people with the condition, according to one 2015 study.
Eosinophilic asthma is another type of asthma that, in severe cases, may not respond to the usual medications. Although some people with eosinophilic asthma manage with standard asthma medications, others may benefit from specific “biologic” therapies. One type of biologic medication reduces the numbers of eosinophils, which are a type of blood cell involved in an allergic reaction that can trigger asthma.
- Seasonal asthma
This type of asthma occurs in response to allergens that are only in the surrounding environment at certain times of year. For example, cold air in the winter or pollen in the spring or summer may trigger symptoms of seasonal asthma.
People with seasonal asthma still have the condition for the rest of the year, but they usually do not experience symptoms.
- Diagnosis of Asthma
There’s no single test or exam that will determine if you or your child has asthma. Instead, your doctor will use a variety of criteria to determine if the symptoms are the result of asthma.
The following can help diagnose asthma:
- Health history. If you have family members with the breathing disorder, your risk is higher. Alert your doctor to this genetic connection.
- Physical exam. Your doctor will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. You may also be given a skin test to look for signs of an allergic reaction, such as hives or eczema. Allergies increase your risk for asthma.
- Breathing tests. Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) measure airflow into and out of your lungs. For the most common test, spirometry, you blow into a device that measures the speed of the air.