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    Common asthma symptoms

    On this page
    1. Signs and symptoms of asthma
    2. Unusual asthma symptoms
    3. Causes of asthma
    4. How is asthma diagnosed?
    5. How long do asthma symptoms last?
    6. What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?
    7. What is the best treatment for asthma?
    8. Can asthma be cured?
    9. When to see a doctor for asthma 

    Asthma is a condition which affects the airways in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. If you suspect you have asthma, it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

    Asthma is an incredibly common condition with easily recognisable symptoms. It causes the airways in your lungs to become irritated and inflamed, meaning they can narrow and close up. This makes it very difficult to breathe, and as a result asthma can often be a life-threatening condition which nearly always requires medical treatment. In the UK alone, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma. It is easy to seek help for the condition via your GP or our online service.

    In most cases, asthma can be easily controlled. The most commonly prescribed asthma treatment is a reliever inhaler such as Ventolin, which contains salbutamol - a medicine that relaxes the muscles in the airways in your lungs, making it easier to breathe. This is used to relieve symptoms when they flare up.

    Signs and symptoms of asthma

    The symptoms of asthma can vary, depending on the severity of your condition. They are caused by your airways becoming inflamed and tightening.

    The most common symptoms are:

    • coughing, particularly at night and in the early morning
    • wheezing
    • tightness or pain in your chest
    • breathlessness

    If you find yourself suffering from a combination of these symptoms you should seek advice from a doctor. If you are diagnosed with asthma, it is very likely that you will be prescribed a reliever inhaler and possibly a preventer inhaler - which is used daily to reduce airway inflammation, stopping the onset of asthma symptoms.

    It is very important that you seek medical advice if you are having these symptoms, even if you think they are under control. In the UK around 1,200 people die from asthma each year, and the majority of these deaths are preventable. Carrying a reliever inhaler with you at all times is important, as this is the only way to relieve asthma symptoms quickly.

    Unusual asthma symptoms

    Most people will experience the common symptoms of asthma, however there are other symptoms to be aware of. These include:

    • Losing your breath easily
    • Feeling tired or weak when exercising
    • Feeling more tired than usual
    • Difficulty sleeping 

    Children may also experience different symptoms than adults. Speak to your GP for more advice.  

    Causes of asthma

    Asthma is usually set off by triggers which aggravate your symptoms. Common asthma triggers include:

    • air pollution
    • animal hair or dander
    • smoking
    • weather
    • exercise
    • food
    • pollen
    • dust
    • emotional stress
    • cold or flu

    To help improve your symptoms it is important to know what the triggers for your asthma are and find ways to avoid them.

    How is asthma diagnosed?

    Your doctor will ask you about the symptoms you’re experiencing, when they happen and how often. They may also want to know if you notice anything that triggers them or makes them worse. They can also carry out tests such as a breathing test called spirometry or a peak flow test to confirm that you have asthma.

    How long do asthma symptoms last?

    How long asthma symptoms last depend on how severe your asthma is and how well you’re managing it. Most people experience symptoms occasionally. Whereas others may have issues most of the time. Symptoms can also be worse at certain times of the day like at night or in the early morning. Your symptoms may be particularly bad around a certain trigger or time of year, like pollen season.

    What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

    An asthma attack is a worsening of your asthma symptoms - which may happen suddenly or over a period of a few days - resulting in an episode of severe, and potentially life-threatening, breathlessness.

    Asthma attack symptoms are generally recognisable as more severe versions of those mentioned earlier. They include:

    • severe and constant wheezing and coughing
    • acute tightness in the chest
    • increased heart rate
    • inability to speak due to breathlessness

    Your reliever inhaler should help soothe your symptoms. In the case of a severe asthma attack, however, you may find that your reliever inhaler does not improve your breathing, in which case you must seek medical help immediately.

    What is the best treatment for asthma?

    The best treatment for your asthma will depend on how severe it is. A reliever inhaler such as ventolin is used for flare-ups as and when you need it. Preventer inhalers are taken daily to prevent flare ups. Typically, you might use both. 

    Whichever treatment you’re using, you should visit your doctor at least once a year for an asthma check-up.  Our convenient online asthma service allows you to register for and order asthma treatments from the comfort of your own home. Making it easy for you to get the medicine you need and bringing your asthma symptoms under control. 

    Can asthma be cured?

    Asthma can’t be cured, however managing your symptoms will help you to experience them less and less.

    Making sure that you take your inhalers correctly is the first step. You should also follow your Personal Action Plan (PAP). It tells you what medicines you need to take for your asthma every day. It also tells you what symptoms to look out for and what medicines to take when you notice your asthma is getting worse. If your symptoms do develop into an asthma attack, your action plan tells you what you need to do urgently. If you can find ways to work around your triggers, then you can begin to manage your symptoms and prevent them from dominating your everyday life.

    When to see a doctor for asthma 

    You should see your doctor or asthma nurse at least once a year to talk about your asthma and medication. They’ll help you to manage your asthma and check treatments are working.  

    If you have an asthma attack you should seek a GP or asthma nurse within 48 hours of leaving hospital. If you don’t need hospital treatment you should see the GP or asthma nurse on the same day as your attack.  

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