Asthma has a severity spectrum. Some people have very mild asthma - exercise induced asthma is an example. Others feel the symptoms of asthma such as a cough, coughing up mucous, wheezing and shortness of breath frequently. If these symptoms are present more than twice a week or are not relieved by an inhaled bronchodilator, it may indicate moderate asthma.
Asthma symptoms vary with circumstances. For example, a person with mild asthma may develop moderate or severe symptoms after catching a respiratory viral infection. During that time their medication may need to be adjusted. Similarly, a moderately severe asthmatic might become better if a source of bronchial irritation (antigen stimulation), for example the family cat, is removed from the environment.
Asthma in infancy and childhood
When children get asthma, they don't necessarily demonstrate the same symptoms as adults. Often, asthma in children manifests as rapid respiration, noisy breathing, retraction, and chest congestion. You may notice your child has less stamina than his or her playmates, or they may try to limit physical activities to avoid wheezing and coughing. If your child complains of a tightness in the chest, this could be symptomatic of asthma. The only common observable symptom of asthma in young children may be recurrent or constant coughing spells.
Asthma in adults
Some people may have asthma temporarily as children, then redevelop it in later life. Retired people can develop asthma as a result of prolonged exposure to irritants in the workplace or the home. Symptoms include wheezing and coughing with or without a cold and attacks of shortness of breath accompanied by a wheeze.
The symptoms for asthma are similar to those of bronchitis and emphysema, particularly in people who smoke. In some adults, bronchitis and emphysema may seem like asthma. Heart disease can also cause breathing problems in adults. A person can have heart and lung disease and asthma simultaneously.
David Ostrow, MD
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team