Here’s What Asthma Symptoms Really Feel Like During an Attack

Here’s What Asthma Symptoms Really Feel Like During an Attack

by Sue Jones
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But who are these people with asthma who experience nighttime symptoms?

“There are some patients who experience worse breathlessness at night for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Galiatsatos explains. “Some of it is that the physiological change in body temperature could be enough to set off someone’s asthma. When I’m told asthma is awakening a patient at night I have to think about what’s going on in that bedroom.”

Some questions to ask yourself are: Do you sleep with your pet? Get in bed without showering off the day’s pollutants? Slumber with the windows open? If you answered yes to any of these things, one simple solution is to address those behaviors. Simply having your pet sleep in another room, showering before bed, or closing the windows to keep irritants out of the room may be enough to reduce the discomfort.

What are the types of asthma?

It’s easy to think of asthma as one disease, but it’s actually an umbrella term for many different types, including:

Allergic asthma

The most common type of asthma, allergy-induced asthma is triggered by exposure to allergens like dust mites, pet dander, pollen, or mold, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Allergies and asthma tend to run together so you’ll find people with allergies who also have asthma,” says Sonali Bose, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine) and Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “For those people with allergic asthma, their allergies are oftentimes the trigger for their disease.”

Exercise-induced asthma

It’s pretty normal to become winded during a workout, but if you cough, wheeze, and struggle to breathe within minutes of doing aerobic exercise like running you may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, which is more commonly known as exercise-induced asthma.

Non-allergic asthma

Triggered by irritants like smoke and medical conditions such as sinusitis, this type of asthma often comes on later in life than allergic asthma. Up to one in three people with asthma have non-allergic asthma2.

Occupational asthma

Up to 15% of asthma cases in the U.S. are believed to be job-related, thanks to the substances—fumes, dust, gases—inhaled in the name of making a living, such as factory and agriculture workers, bakers, and painters, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. One clue you have occupational asthma: Your asthma symptoms kick in on the days you work and improve on your days off.

Childhood asthma

Even though pediatric asthma is the most common serious chronic disease in infants and children, according to the American Lung Association, it can be hard to diagnose.

While there are certain things to watch out for, such as eczema in infancy followed by allergy to indoor and outdoor allergens and asthma, Dr. Ogden says, “because children experience viruses, colds, and upper respiratory tract infections more frequently, we often see asthma symptoms around these illnesses more commonly in children.”

That can make it confusing when it comes to diagnosis.

Adult-onset asthma

Asthma that is unmasked during adulthood is a little sneakier than childhood asthma, Dr. Galiatstatos says. “The challenge with children is they don’t have too much reserve to compensate when their lungs get active with an asthma attack, so their asthma attacks tend to be quick,” he says. “With adults, their lungs have grown to a certain extent so it’s never ‘Oh, I can’t breathe!’ It’s more of a gradual thing over a day or two of kicking in.”

Asthma causes and triggers

Researchers haven’t yet found a clear-cut answer for what causes asthma, and it may vary from person to person. What we do know is that it’s often due to the immune system overreacting to a substance in the lungs, and right on cue, the asthma symptoms start.

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