Typical asthma symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, a wheezing sound during breathing, and a tight feeling or pain in the chest. If you have asthma, you are likely to experience at least one or more of these symptoms, which may become worse at night.
In severe cases, asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Your breathing may become shallow as your chest works to exhale sufficient air from the lungs. Without adequate oxygen, your skin will turn a bluish color, and the skin around your rib cage will look sucked in. If untreated, you may start to lose consciousness.
Asthma symptoms vary in severity. The symptoms can range from an occasional mild attack of breathlessness to persistent wheezing that does not improve with medication. Asthma symptoms can be seasonal, or can be present year-round. They can come on sporadically, or can be continuous.
Asthma-like wheezing can occur as a result of other serious conditions. Serious lung conditions such as croup, Kartagener's syndrome, and cystic fibrosis; or an obstruction in the trachea, could cause wheezing. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the diseases that so often plague smokers, are also associated with wheezing, as is cardiac failure or vocal cord dysfunction. Speak to your doctor about any breathing difficulties you are having, as there are many possible reasons for why you are having trouble.
Young children are more likely to develop asthma. Asthma often starts during childhood. A child who develops asthma is genetically inclined to have a hypersensitive reaction to environmental allergens (atopy). Individuals with atopy produce antibodies that are directed toward commonly found allergens such as dust mites, pollen, animal proteins, and mold.
Infants and young children who experience wheezing along with viral respiratory infections or allergies, or who have a family history of allergies are likely to have a type of asthma that will continue through childhood.
Adult-onset asthma may have a variety of causes. Asthma can develop at any age, although it most often starts during childhood and adolescence. Adults who develop asthma frequently may have coexisting sinusitis, nasal polyps, and sensitivity to aspirin or similar nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.
Occupational exposure to workplace materials, such as animal products, biological enzymes, plastic resin, wood dusts, and metals may trigger asthma attacks. Individuals exposed to certain irritating materials in occupational settings may experience airway inflammation, bronchial hyper-responsiveness, and clinical signs of asthma.
While identifying and removing the trigger can reduce asthma symptoms, some individuals continue to suffer from persistent asthma even after they are no longer exposed to the chemical or allergen that is making them sick. Other individuals who develop occupational asthma remain permanently impaired after leaving the job site.
Asthma frequently runs in families. If both parents have asthma, the probability that their child will have asthma is greater, although not all children will necessarily experience the same degree of severity. In pairs of identical twins, one may have asthma but the other may not, suggesting that inherited genetic factors do not fully account for the development of asthma.
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