Although wheezing is one of the most common symptoms of asthma, other conditions can cause wheezing as well. As such, wheezing should always be evaluated by a physician. Other conditions that may cause wheezing include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Heart failure
- Sleep apnea
- Certain medications
- Respiratory tract infections
- Vocal cord dysfunction
Shortness of Breath
Mild shortness of breath, coupled with the other listed symptoms, can help to diagnose asthma.
It is important to note that when shortness of breath becomes severe, an asthma attack may be occurring. You should have an emergency plan in place for asthma attacks.
Many conditions can cause shortness of breath, mimicking asthma. Examples include allergies, GERD, sinus diseases, and conditions of the heart.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, shortness of breath that is associated with asthma can also be caused by paradoxical vocal fold motion disorder. This causes, “spasms in your throat muscles that make it difficult to get a breath in.”
Chest tightness is a common symptom of asthma. It may occur alone, or it can occur with the symptoms mentioned above.
There are a couple of reasons that can cause the chest tightness that is experienced with asthma. The most common reasons to experience chest pain is simply because frequent coughing can lead to chest discomfort. The inflammation experienced in the airways can also be uncomfortable.
However, asthma can occasionally lead to situations that may cause chest pain:
- Pneumomediastinum occurs when air is trapped in the mediastinum (the space between the lungs and the other organs in the chest cavity). When a pneumomediastinum occurs, pressure increases in the chest cavity, and pain occurs. This condition is uncomfortable but typically resolves itself.
- Pneumothorax may indicate an emergency. A pneumothorax occurs when the lung collapses spontaneously, leaking air between the lungs and the chest wall. A spontaneous pneumothorax occurs in young, healthy people who have asthma. A chest tube may have to be inserted to treat pneumothorax.
Asthma attack Symptoms
An asthma attack can progress quickly and is an emergency situation. Without proper emergency treatment, you can die. Educate yourself on the symptoms and warning signs, and those close to you so that they understand the severity of this situation.
Tachypnea is when breathing becomes very rapid. Shortness of breath may be experienced daily, but when it becomes rapid and challenging to breathe, an asthma attack is likely occurring.
Tachypnea occurs during an asthma attack because something has triggered the lungs to become so swollen, so inflamed that it is tough to move air in and out. Also, bronchospasm is likely occurring. Bronchospasm is when the muscles around the airways begin to tighten. The combination of all of these factors causes rapid breathing, as well as the other symptoms associated with an asthma attack.
Tightened Neck and Chest Muscles
Constricted neck and chest muscles, also called intercostal retractions, occur during an asthma attack. According to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, “Intercostal retractions are due to reduced air pressure inside your chest.”
The intercostal muscles are the muscles that are between the ribs. When we breathe, these muscles naturally tighten and loosen. However, when the muscles become too tight, an emergency is occurring.
It is important to note that several other conditions may cause intercostal retractions:
- Airway obstruction
Difficulty speaking occurs during an asthma attack as the symptoms above worsen. When tachypnea and intercostal retractions occur, and worsen, it can become increasingly difficult to speak because you are focusing so hard to breathe.
Next page: More symptoms of an asthma attack, and information on how to treat asthma symptoms.