Asthma Symptoms, Triggers, and Diagnosis Facts

· January 23, 2018
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the respiratory system. When faced with certain endogenous (internal) and exogenous (environmental) stimuli, the smaller air passages constrict: this means that the bronchi narrow and limit the flow of air to the lungs.

The origin of this condition is very complex and involves irritation, inflammation, intermittent obstructions, and hypersensitive bronchi or an increased constrictive response of your respiratory passages.

There are a large number of asthma patients who have mild or sporadic symptoms. Some, however, tend to have more severe complications known as “asthma attacks,” which cause more severe discomfort and last longer. As a result, breathing becomes more difficult.

Who does asthma affect?

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), around 235 million people have asthma, or about 5% of the world’s population.

Regardless of the degree of development in a country, it’s important to point out that 80% of asthma-related deaths occur in countries with poor health care indices.

Asthma is present in all countries and can affect people of all ages, although it is more common among children. During this stage, cases of asthma are typically associated with allergies.

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Causes of asthma

The origin of asthma has never been determined. It’s important, however, to distinguish between etiological factors (such as genetics) and other triggers that may not produce the disease themselves but are responsible from problems in particular patients.

Etiological factors

  • Genetics: a family history of asthma and/or allergies related to breathing difficulties
  • Exposure to allergens: substances that produce allergies and respiratory symptoms. The most important ones are:
    • Microscopic fungi (a product of moisture)
    • Scales, fur, and dander from domestic animals
    • Fabric (such as wool)
    • Smoking
    • Sawdust
    • Mites
    • Dust
    • Pollen


Triggers that are associated with the onset of symptoms are typically environmental. Some of them are:

  • Viral infections
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Celiac disease or gluten intolerance
  • Contaminated environments and poor air quality
  • Sudden changes in climate (intense cold, humidity, or snow)
  • Prolonged use of certain antibiotics and medications

Asthma symptoms

Symptoms may manifest in a mild or chronic manner, depending on the patient. They almost always depend on the strength of your immune system. Although they manifest according to the type of asthma you have and its severity, in general a person will experience:

  • Coughing: this is typically an irritating cough with little phlegm, sometimes completely dry.
  • Difficulty breathing: it happens typically when you’re exercising or exerting yourself physically. In severe cases it may appear while speaking and even at rest.
  • Whistling in the chest: these sounds are produced by the passage of air through narrow airways. It is more easily detected by a stethoscope.

Other symptoms to consider include:

  • Sensation of fatigue
  • Pain and irritation in the throat
  • Pressure in the chest
  • Irregular breathing (slower or faster than normal)
  • Nasal congestion (thick mucus, difficult to eliminate) and sneezing
  • Difficulty walking or talking because it’s hard to breathe (a very serious symptom)

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Diagnosis of asthma

The diagnosis of this disease starts with an evaluation of your medical history, family history, and other potential causes or risk factors. If a patient has already been diagnosed, prior episodes will be evaluated.

Many cases are related to allergies, so if a patient has rhinitis or eczema it may lead a doctor to suspect the occurrence of asthma. In addition, the doctor may request any of the following tests to further establish a diagnosis:

  • Allergy tests
  • Blood tests
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Chest and sinus X-rays
  • Arterial blood gas (when asthma attacks are severe)


Unfortunately asthma is a disease that has no cure, but there are certain treatments to help control it. The objective of the treatments is to reduce both the severity of your condition and the recurrence of symptoms.

Treatment objectives include:

  • Preventing and relieving chronic symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Maintaining proper lung function
  • Reducing the need to use emergency medications for relief
  • Avoiding chronic asthma attacks

Medical treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatories: corticosteroids are most commonly prescribed (beclomethasone, budesonide, fluticasone)
  • Bronchodilators: beta 2 agonists (salbutamol, terbutaline, salmeterol, and formeterol, anticholinergies (ipratropium bromide), and methylxanthines
  • Antihistamines: although these don’t control the disease, they are useful for reducing allergy symptoms

It’s also important to have a plan of action that includes the following precautions:

  • First, take your medication correctly, at the right time and following medical advice
  • Then, seek emergency medical attention when necessary
  • Also, know how well your disease is controlled
  • And, avoid environmental triggers
  • Lastly, know how to take care of yourself when exercising