Asthma – Symptoms, types and diagnosis

Article written by :drsanjoygupta
Dr Sanjoy Gupta, MD, FCCP
Consultant Respiratory Medicine
Peerless Hospital

What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs. The inflammation of the airway tract causes difficulty in breathing and also can make some physical activities challenging or even impossible if not detected early.

To know about asthma, it’s necessary to understand a little about what happens when we breathe.

Normally, with every breath we take, air flows in through our nose or mouth and moves down into our throat and into our airways and eventually reaches our lungs.  There are lots of small air passages in our lungs which help deliver oxygen from the air into our bloodstream.

The symptoms of Asthma occur when the lining of our airways swell and the muscles around them tighten. Mucus then fills the airways, further reducing the amount of air which can pass through.

These conditions can then bring on an asthma “attack.”

What are the symptoms which can occur in Asthma?

There are many symptoms which can be identified among which the most common symptom is wheezing, a squealing or whistling sound made during breathing. Other major symptoms which can occur are:

  • Coughing at night, when laughing or during exercise
  • Tightness in the chest region
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty while talking and walking up stairs

Everyone with asthma will not experience these particular symptoms. If you think that the symptoms you are experiencing could be a sign of asthma, you must visit a doctor for confirmation of your medical condition.

What are the types of asthma?

There are different variations or types of asthma. The most common type is bronchial asthma, which affects the bronchi in the lungs. Additional forms of asthma include childhood asthma and adult onset-asthma. In adult onset asthma, symptoms don’t appear until at least the age of 20 years. A few types of asthma are provided below:

  • Allergen induced asthma – mainly induced by allergens like dust, pollens, food etc
  • Non allergen induced asthma – mainly induced by irritants or pollutants in the air like burning wood or coal, cigarette or incense smoke, etc
  • Occupational asthma – mainly induced by dust, dyes, gases & fumes, etc. This form of asthma occurs in a person who is working in a manufacturing industry which deals with the above mentioned irritants. Eg. Farming, textiles, woodworking, etc.
  • Exercise induced broncho-constriction (EIB)
  • Drug induced asthma (Aspirin)
  • Nocturnal asthma
  • Cough variant asthma (CVA)


How can it be diagnosed?

There is no single test or examination which can identify asthma. Visiting a specialist doctors is very important to identify your symptoms of asthma and for proper treatment. The diagnosis depends on health history, physical exam and breathing tests like PFT (Pulmonary Function Test) or spirometry and histamine or cold air challenge allergic test, blood tests like IgE, etc.

How can it be treated?

Treatment varies from person to person. Identification of the type of asthma is very important to provide specific treatment plan. There are various types of breathing exercises and medications which can help control your asthma. Hence consulting a specialist Pulmonologist/ Respiratory medicine doctor early is very important to identify and properly treat your asthma.

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