Acid Reflux Taking Your Breath Away
Is Your Breathing Trouble Asthma—Or Something Worse?
Many classic allergens are also asthma triggers, Dinakar says. If you have breathing problems after spending time around cats or other animals, or around pollen—and especially if you're experiencing other allergy symptoms like sneezing or itchy eyes—that's a good sign you're dealing with asthma, she says. (Are your allergies getting worse? Here are 4 reasons why.)
It's common for adult asthma sufferers to have had asthma during childhood, Dinakar says. In many cases, these people learned to avoid certain triggers or behaviors, and so they stopped experiencing symptoms for a time. But then they assume they've outgrown asthma, and so they start a heavy exercise regimen or they hang out with smokers, and their symptoms return. So if you had asthma as a child and you're experiencing its hallmark symptoms, it's a good bet your current breathing problems are related to asthma.
Dinakar says it's easy to confuse asthma-related wheezing to a similar condition called rhonchi, which is a kind of rattling or chest congestion that can signal other breathing-related health conditions like COPD or bronchitis. "Rhonchi is usually caused by nasal obstruction and mucous in the chest," she says. One way to tell it and wheezing apart: Asthma-related wheezing tends to be more of a high-pitched sound that is noticeable when you're breathing out—as opposed to a congested sound that you notice when you breathe in.
MORE:5 Scary Things Your Cough Could Mean
This may sound obvious. But if you have an asthma inhaler and it helps alleviate your breathing issues, chances are good you're dealing with asthma. One the other hand, some patients notice they're not responding as well to their asthma inhalers, but they don't always think to notify their doctor, Dinakar says. "Many conditions have respiratory symptoms," she explains. If your inhaler isn't helping, that's a good indicator asthma isn't your issue. (Watch for these 8 signs your lungs are failing.)
Dinakar emphasizes that differentiating asthma from other respiratory conditions isn't easy. If you're experiencing breathing problems, that's not something you want to mess around with. Chest tightness or pressure, for example, could signal an impending heart attack. See your doctor so you can figure out what's going on.
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