This can be confusing because you may not have “Asthma Attacks” or wheezing. The symptoms of asthma can be different in different people. Some people feel tightness or itching of their throat or upper chest. Some feel tired after not sleeping well. Others just have cough, while others will have ‘classic’ asthma symptom of wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. It’s also very important to know that other conditions can cause symptoms similar to asthma. For example, problems with your heart may mimic some of these symptoms. It is vital that you go to your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Do not tough it out. Your health depends on it!
Do I Have Asthma?
You may have Asthma if:
· You have a cold but the cough won’t go away after the other cold symptoms are gone. An asthma cough is dry and hacking. In fact, there is ‘cough variant asthma’ with no other signs of asthma.
· You cough at night, even just one to two nights every two weeks. Your spouse or parent may hear you, even if you do not awaken.
· You feel chest tightness or find it hard to get a deep breath, especially when you run or climb hills or steps. You may have a tickle and a dry cough 5-30 minutes after exercise, especially in cool air. The colder the air, the more it dries the airways, which triggers the cough. Hard laughing can also trigger your cough. Anyone with asthma will have some of this ‘exercise-induced asthma’ or EIA.
The good news is 70-80% of your asthma may be due to allergies, and those are treatable! Allergy immunotherapy injections (or allergy shots) build up your own natural immunity until you block your allergies yourself. You are then preventing the main cause of your asthma.
Please be aware of the following other medical problems that may mimic or complicate asthma:
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) may not only give you heartburn, but may also result in a dry cough, one to three times, often throughout the day. Sometimes GER has no burning or heartburn and no acid taste in your mouth, but only gives you the cough. We call this “silent reflux” or layrngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) and it is important to ask your doctor to treat this.
Additionally, many people have both asthma and GER, with or without noticing heartburn. To make matters worse, frequent cough will worsen the reflux, which worsens the cough and leads to a vicious cycle of cough and reflux.
Sinus problems will usually cause a cough, with mucus draining into the back of your throat. Just having inflammation in your sinus lining has been shown to cause a worsening of your asthma. Your asthma flares even more if you have repeated infections. As with asthma, many who suffer from sinus problems have underlying allergies. Knowing your allergy triggers and effective immunotherapy can improve both your sinus problems and your asthma.
Bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be present without asthma. However, newer evidence shows that these lung problems also share some degree of asthma-like inflammation. Blocking that component with asthma medications may help greatly.
As you can see, sorting out the cause of cough and wheeze can be a challenge. As always, if you have any questions about your allergies and asthma, ask your Allergy Partners physician. We love to solve puzzles to help you feel your best.
Dr. W. Leon Elliston
Allergy Partners of Western North Carolina