Asthma is a complex disease to diagnose, and only a healthcare professional is able to make a proper diagnosis.
If you are concerned that you may have asthma, contact your healthcare provider. In order to confirm an asthma diagnosis, your healthcare provider will take into account your medical and family history, allergies, and conduct lung function testing such as spirometry.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic, long-term disease of the airways, the tubes that carry air into our lungs. It causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, which leads to airflow limitation. The airways of our lungs are surrounded by muscles and contain mucous glands. These muscles are normally relaxed, but if you have asthma, they are often sensitive and inflamed.
When people with asthma encounter triggers, these muscles react by tightening even more, the lining of the airways swell and the airways can fill up with mucus. This makes breathing very difficult and leads to asthma symptoms or asthma exacerbation, also known as an asthma attack.
Asthma Signs & Symptoms
People with asthma experience symptoms due to inflammation in the airways. They might only occur when you encounter an asthma trigger. Common symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of asthma include:
- Persistent or recurring coughing: which often occurs at night or early in the morning, although it can happen at any time. Coughing is a major feature of asthma, especially in children and can sometimes be the only sign of asthma.
- Wheezing: is difficulty breathing accompanied by a whistling sound coming from your airways
- Shortness of breath: gives you the feeling that you can’t get enough air into your lungs, and may even find it difficult to eat, sleep or speak
- Chest tightness: an unpleasant sensation of heaviness or pressure in the chest that can make it hard to breathe
- Increased mucus production: is characterized by high levels of thick fluid or phlegm accumulating in your airways
- Difficulty breathing while exercising: having trouble breathing while performing physical activities can be a sign of asthma
- Losing Sleep: Being unable to sleep through the night because of breathing troubles
What should I do if I think I have asthma?
If you think that you have asthma, the best thing you can do is see your healthcare provider as soon as possible for proper testing and diagnosis. Many people normalize their symptoms, without ever realizing that a symptom-free life could be possible. It’s crucial to never ignore or downplay your asthma symptoms, you never know when something could trigger a potentially fatal asthma attack.
The sooner that you get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, the sooner you can take control of your asthma and live life to the fullest.
Can Asthma Be Cured?
There is currently no known cure for asthma, but with proper diagnosis and asthma management it is fully possible for people with asthma to live healthy, active and symptom-free lives.
There is still much research that needs to be done to fully understand how to prevent, treat and cure asthma. Asthma Canada’s National Research Program is committed to supporting leading asthma researchers and graduate student researchers working to expand our knowledge and one day, unlock a cure.
If you think you may have asthma, your first step should be to speak with your healthcare provider. You can learn more about proper diagnosis here.
Asthma & Allergy HelpLine
Do you have questions about asthma? Contact our free helpline service to be connected with a Certified Respiratory Educator who can provide you with personalized support.
It’s important to know the signs of an asthma attack and what to do if you or a loved one is having one. Knowing what actions to take could save a life.
Breathe Easy: Diagnosis
Download a copy of our Breathe Easy Booklet Series on asthma diagnosis. It discusses proper diagnosis and testing, and answers common questions about asthma. It also includes a checklist of questions that you may want to discuss with your doctor. [Click here to download in French]