Asthma and allergies often go hand-in-hand. Asthma is a disease of the branches of the windpipe (bronchial tubes), which carry air in and out of the lungs. There are several different types of asthma.
Allergic asthma is a type of asthma that is triggered by an allergy (for example, pollen or mold spores). According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, half of the 20 million Americans with asthma have allergic asthma.
Air is normally taken into the body through the nose and windpipe and into the bronchial tubes. At the end of the tubes are tiny air sacs called alveoli that deliver fresh air (oxygen) to the blood. The air sacs also collect stale air (carbon dioxide), which is exhaled out of the body. During normal breathing, the bands of muscle surrounding the airways are relaxed and air moves freely. But during an asthma episode or "attack," there are three main changes that stop air from moving freely into the airways:
- The bands of muscle that surround the airways tighten, causing them to narrow in what is called "bronchospasm."
- The lining of the airways becomes swollen, or inflamed.
- The cells that line the airways produce more mucus, which is thicker than normal.
The narrowed airway makes it more difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs. As a result, people with asthma feel they cannot get enough air. All of these changes make breathing difficult.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Asthma?
Symptoms of asthma strike when the airways undergo the three changes described above. Some people can go a long time between asthma episodes while others have some symptoms every day. Common symptoms of asthma include:
Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these asthma symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma episode to the next. Symptoms may be mild during one asthma episode and severe during another.
Mild asthma episodes are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. Severe episodes are less common, but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms to help prevent severe episodes and keep asthma in control.
If you suffer from allergies and asthma, a reaction to any offending allergy-causing substance can worsen asthma symptoms.
What Are the Early Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack?
Early warning signs start before the more prominent symptoms of asthma and are the earliest signs that a person's asthma is worsening. Early warning signs and symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- Frequent cough, especially at night
- Losing your breath easily or shortness of breath
- Feeling very tired or weak when exercising, in addition to wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath
- Decreases or changes in peak expiratory flow, a measurement of how fast air comes out of the lungs when you exhale forcefully
- Signs of a cold or other upper respiratory infections, or allergies
- Difficulty sleeping
If you have any of these asthma symptoms, seek treatment as soon as possible to prevent experiencing a severe asthma attack.