People with asthma experience symptoms because of the inflammation and narrowing of their airways. Symptoms often vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are:
- Tight feeling in the chest
- Continuing cough
Cough can be caused by many things, and there are many types of cough. The presence of persistent cough, or one that continues during the night or early morning, irrespective of the sound it makes, would warrant further investigation and the consideration of asthma as a diagnosis.
Wheeze is a high-pitched whistling sound made by the airways when they are narrowing. It is often heard by the doctor as they listen to your breathing using a stethoscope. It can also be heard by non-medical people without special equipment. Wheeze can be caused by a number of things, including asthma. When heard, visit a doctor to investigate further.
Occasionally, people with asthma experience silent symptoms of asthma. This is where the signs of the tightening of the airways don’t result in the sounds of wheezing and coughing that are more familiar to us. You should let people around you (school or daycare staff, work colleagues, family and friends) know that you experience silent asthma symptoms so they can respond and support you when you need it. Signs of breathing difficulty which could indicate an emergency include:
- Distress, irritability, restlessness more than usual
- Fatigue and listlessness
- Deep sucking movements in their chest and throat when they try to breathe
- For all children, especially the younger ones, look at the gap at the bottom of their neck, where it meets the breast bone. When that area appears to be sucking in an out during breathing, this is a sign of difficulty breathing. Same for the spaces between the ribs, when they are appearing such in and out, this is a sign of breathing difficulty
- Inability of the child to finish their sentences when talking due to breathlessness
In most situations where a child is experiencing breathing difficulties, they should be seen by a doctor urgently.
Chest pain and chest tightness occur when the narrowing airways make it difficult to get the air in. This makes the chest feel tight. It can be uncommon to hear young children use the word “tightness” and “chest”. They might otherwise say “sore tummy” or “feeling sick”. Symptoms can be controlled, or they can be very serious. But with the right management, people with asthma continue to live full and uninhibited lives. A person’s symptoms can vary over time. Sometimes people with asthma will have no symptoms, especially when their asthma is well-controlled. You may have all of these symptoms, or only a few, and they may come and go. Symptoms often occur at night, early in the morning, or during or just after activity. If your asthma is well controlled, you should only have occasional symptoms. If you have symptoms or use your reliever puffer over two days a week your asthma may not be under control and you should see your doctor. You can also get more help by viewing Live well with Asthma.
Asthma is a complex condition
Occasionally, people with asthma experience what are known as ‘silent’ symptoms. This is where the signs of the tightening of the airways don’t result in the familiar asthma sounds of wheezing and coughing. If you or someone you live with, work with, or care for experiences silent symptoms, it is important they consult a doctor for an ongoing Asthma Action Plan. People around the person with asthma–such as co-workers, school teachers or daycare educators – should know about the silent symptoms so they can respond if needed. Asthma can start at any age, and can be more of a problem when it starts in older adults. Don’t assume if you never had asthma as a child that it’s not possible to develop symptoms now. Being breathless is not a normal part of getting older, it should always be checked out by a doctor.
What should I do if I think I have asthma?
If you suspect you might have asthma, you should see your doctor for a professional diagnosis. Don’t ignore it – if you do have asthma, the sooner you get it under control, the faster you can get back to living a full and active life. For more information on how Asthma Australia is helping people with asthma to breathe so they can live freely, visit About Us.