Is it asthma or something else?

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Sep. 01, 2019

Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest – could it be asthma? Possibly, or it may be something completely different, likely allergies.

Allergies are different than asthma, but the two often occur together, according to the Mayo Clinic. The same substances that trigger hay fever symptoms may also cause asthma symptoms. In some people, skin or food allergies can cause asthma symptoms, which is called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma.

Allergies are an immune system response, or over-sensitivity, to an environmental “trigger” (known as an allergen), such as pollen, dust, mold, pet dander, or certain foods. Signs of an allergic reaction include itchy
eyes, nose, mouth or ears, sneezing, runny nose, dry skin or hives, cough, wheezing, or tightness in the chest. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, allergies can trigger an asthma attack. However, asthma is present in some people without allergies.

Asthma is an underlying inflammation of the lungs that is always present. Asthma constricts the muscles around the airways, causing wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. The bronchial tubes tighten and
air flow is reduced. While allergens provoke most asthma attacks, other triggers include smoke, cold or humid air, strong odors, and strenuous exercise.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can create asthma-like symptoms as well. COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is very common in older adults, especially those who are, or have been, smokers.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in some cases asthma symptoms can mimic other illnesses or diseases, especially in older adults. A hiatal hernia, stomach problems, heart failure, and rheumatic arthritis have many of the same symptoms as asthma.

Individuals who have asthma symptoms should not ignore them, states the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The symptoms may mean a person does, in fact, have asthma or a completely different condition. Not seeking treatment for asthma can contribute to a greater loss of lung function. Though not curable, asthma can be managed with various treatments.

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