When the bronchi become irritated and/or infected, an asthma attack may be triggered. The attack may be acute onset and happen suddenly, or develop gradually over several days or hours. The main symptoms that can signal an impending asthma attack are as follows:
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty speaking
Wheezing is the most common symptom of an asthma attack. Wheezing is defined as a whistling noise in the chest during breathing when the airways are narrowed or compressed. Not all asthmatics wheeze, and not all people who wheeze are asthmatics.
The characteristics of wheezing include:
- Hearing a musical, whistling, or hissing sound with breathing
- Most often heard during inhalation, but they can occur while breathing out (exhalation)
Current guidelines from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) and its Expert Panel Report 2 (EPR 2) have set forth the grading of asthma severity into the following four categories based on frequency of daytime and nocturnal symptoms, peak flows, and as-needed use of inhaled for the care of people with asthma including:
Mild intermittent asthma:
This includes asthma attacks no more often than twice weekly and nighttime attacks no more than twice a monthly, with attacks lasting no more than a few hours to a few days. The severity of attacks may vary, but there are no symptoms between attacks.
Mild persistent asthma:
This includes asthma attacks more than twice weekly, but not daily and nighttime symptoms that may occur more frequently than twice monthly. Sometimes the asthma attacks are severe enough to interrupt regular activities.
Moderate persistent asthma:
This includes daily attacks and nighttime symptoms more than once weekly. In addition, more severe attacks occur at least twice weekly and may last for days. Asthma attacks require daily use of quick-relief (rescue) medication and interrupt some daily activities.
Severe persistent asthma:
This includes frequent, severe attacks, continual datime symptoms, and frequent nighttime symptoms daily. Asthma symptoms limit daily activities.
People with mild and moderate asthma are susceptible to the occurrence of asthma attacks. The severity of asthma may change over time, either for better or for worse.
When to seek medical care for asthma symptoms
If you think you or your child may have asthma, make an appointment with your health-care provider to determine the cause of your symptoms. Some clues pointing to asthma may include the following:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or tightness in your chest
- Recurrent, spasmodic cough that is worse at night
Symptoms may occur during the day or at night. If they happen at night, they may disturb your sleep.
George C. Schiffman, MD, FCCP. 2009. Symptoms of Asthma. (Online) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/asthma/page17_em.htm accessed 01-31-10
George C. Schiffman, MD, FCCP. 2009. When to Seek Medical Care. (Online) http://www.emedicinehealth.com/asthma/page17_em.htm accessed 01-31-10
Medicine Net. 1996 – 2010. Definition of Wheezing (Online) http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=9401 accessed 01-31-10
David M. Lang, Serpil C. Erzurum, Mani Kavuru. 2000-2010 The Cleveland Clinic (Online) http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/allergy/bronchial-asthma/ accessed 01-31-2010