Diagnosing asthma: knowing if your cough is asthma

The United States of America in itself hosts more than twenty million people suffering from asthma. If you’re asthmatic, the primary and foremost symptom that you will experience is persistent coughing, especially in night. It is of course also possible that the cough is a sign of any other respiratory disorder or disease. It is therefore important to immediately see your doctor confirm your condition. He/she will be able to determine if your fits of coughing are in truth caused because of asthma.

There are two medical conditions that are referred to what is asthma. In order to differentiate between them, the medical community has come up with two terms: cardiac asthma and bronchial asthma. The former is a special condition that usually refers to heart failure, whereas the latter defines a problem in the tracheobronchial tree. Bronchial asthma is triggered by a variety of stimuli, usually by an allergic reaction to inhaled substances. It manifests itself by muscle constriction and narrowing or tightening of the bronchial airways.

What you should know about the basic asthma types

Knowing what type of asthma you have can help you control, or even eliminate your attacks.

There are three major types of asthma, allergic, idiopathic, and mixed asthma.

1. Allergic asthma is usually caused by airborne and seasonal allergens. Typically, there is a family history of allergies, but not necessarily asthma. Once you are exposed to the allergen, it becomes a trigger for an asthma attack. By avoiding the allergen, the asthma is controlled. Children with this kind of asthma generally outgrow it by the time they reach puberty.

2. Idiopathic or non-allergic asthma is not related to any specific allergen or substance. Common triggers can include the common cold, exercise, emotions, a respiratory tract infection or environmental pollution. Food additives such as sulfides might also trigger this type of asthma. Over time, asthma attacks can become more frequent and severe. It could also develop into a more serious respiratory condition, such as chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.

3. Mixed asthma is a combination of the above types. It is the most commonly diagnosed kind of asthma.

Mixed asthma negatively affects many aspects of life. Men with bronchial asthma often have erectile dysfunction. Presumably, the cause is ongoing inflammation. So, asthma can lead to impotence! Urgently get treatment for asthma if you want to have an active sex life!

4. Exercise-induced asthma is not considered to be one of the basic types of asthma. It is common in people who have one of the above varieties. If you experience exercise-induced asthma, your airway is reactive to certain conditions, and exercise acts as a trigger. Sometimes, the first symptom you have is suffering from shortness of breath when you exercise. You might ignore it, thinking that it is because you are out of shape, or haven’t worked out for a while. You will find that you cannot build up your endurance because you remain short of breath after minimal exercise. Aerobic exercise, running, playing soccer or hockey, is most likely to trigger this type of asthma attack.

No matter what asthma type you suffer from, it can take control of your life. It determines how well you sleep at night, how much energy you have during the day, and how much enjoyment you get out of life. Understanding your asthma type puts you back in control, and helps you prevent those episodes.

The various types of coughs

Nighttime coughs are basically classified into two: the non-productive, dry hacking cough and the productive cough resulting in the production of mucus along with it. It is generally agreed upon by experts that productive coughs are more likely the result of an illness or a cold and usually not because a patient is asthmatic.

Coughs can also linger after an illness, lasting for up to two weeks. Beyond that time, a lasting cough requires a visit to your doctor in order to check other respiratory disorders. These productive coughs are most effectively treated with a substance containing an ‘expectorant’ that helps in the release of the congestion in your lungs.

An asthma cough, however, is usually dry and non-productive and occurs in fits that once triggered can continue without stopping until the sufferer is out of breath or sometimes even choking. Bouts of wheezing following these coughs are also extremely common. A generally accepted viewpoint amongst doctors is that asthma is caused by irritated and inflamed bronchial passages. The muscles surrounding the bronchial tube attempt to force the irritants out and this spasm of the muscles leads to the coughing fits.

The main asthma symptoms in adults tend to be:

Asthma is one of the most rapidly growing health problems – not only in the United States but in the world. Many people don’t even recognize the signs and symptoms of asthma and go undiagnosed.

These people, suffering from what are often called ‘hidden asthma’, are more prone to respiratory illnesses, get more severe colds, are more likely to get pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. In addition, their health may suffer from poor sleep (one of the signs and symptoms of asthma is nighttime coughing and restlessness), depressed immunities and general fatigue.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of asthma can alert you to a possible problem with undiagnosed asthma.

–  The cough may sound ‘rattly’, but is seldom productive because the asthma cough is not triggered by a need to move mucus. Instead, it’s triggered by irritated and inflamed airways

–  Of all the signs and symptoms of asthma, coughing is the one most likely to appear alone. Cough-variant asthma should be diagnosed by a doctor using a special kind of test to ‘provoke’ a reaction using histamines.

–  Cough-variant asthma is very responsive to a combination of bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids to relieve inflammation.

– Shortness of breath.

–  Being out of breath after minimal exertion can be a symptom of asthma

–  Exercise-induced shortness of breath is most often diagnosed as asthma but needs to be carefully evaluated by a medical professional. In one study researchers found that over 60% of the children who were diagnosed as having exercise-induced asthma actually had nothing wrong with them at all except their own perceptions of how much they should be able to do without getting out of breath.

–  Chronic bouts with pneumonia and bronchitis are often a signal that there is some underlying problem – and that problem often turns out to be asthma.

The solution in the diagnosis

The number of variables a doctor has to consider when dealing with this serious respiratory disease ultimately determines the treatment and solution for asthma available to the patient. The factors of this disease are multi-faceted and can each drive the doctor to various options appropriate for the person.

Just a few of these factors that help formulate the overall treatment strategy include:

– A medical history may be taken to provide a baseline of information that the doctor can use to determine the cause and diagnose the illness. Previous physical health plays a role in helping to accurately determine the correct treatment and solution for asthma appropriate for the patient.

– A complete physical may also be done for basically the same reason. By having as much information as possible, a medical professional has a better chance of accurately diagnosing the problem. All this work is especially important when diagnosing pulmonary illness.

Asthma and respiratory tests

– Peak flow monitoring (PFM)- This is a test that a device is used in measuring the fasted speed that a person blows air out of his or her lungs.

– Spirometry – This is a test for asthma where a device is used to evaluate the function of the lung.

– Chest X-ray – This is a diagnostic asthma test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams.

Why asthma diagnosis should be made quickly

A fast and accurate asthma diagnosis can help greatly with the management of the condition, and it can also increase the chances of the patient recovering fully at a later stage. This is especially true in child asthma, where the early treatment of the disease can dramatically increase the chances of the child being free of all symptoms by the time they reach adulthood. If asthma is correctly diagnosed, the patient can be given light doses of corticosteroid drugs over a long period of time, giving the body the greatest chance of learning to breathe properly again.

Accurate diagnosis is even more essential for successful long term treatment, as this will involve the constant application of a drug, usually through an inhaler. It is important to start with a small dose and build up, partly because of the need to avoid giving the body any more drugs than is necessary, but to a large extent because of the need to monitor the reaction in the patient’s body.

If it’s been determined that you have asthma or another respiratory illness, the doctor will develop an effective treatment plan for your symptoms. There’s no reason why someone diagnosed with asthma cannot live a long and healthy life. Usually, the treatment program involves lifestyle adjustments in the medication regimen to limit severe asthma symptoms. The key to managing any serious illness is early diagnosis and treatment.


This article is written by Carl Lawyer, M.D. pulmonology and sleep medicine specialist, a general practitioner who provides a wide range of services for the treatment of lung diseases and sleep disorders. Dr. Carl Lawyer graduated from medical school at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver, Colorado. He is available for inpatient and outpatient consultation on a variety of pulmonary-related issues, including acute and chronic respiratory failure, asthma, lung cancer, and COPD.

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