Living with a chronic condition like asthma means you may experience flare-ups from time to time.
This is especially the case if you encounter things that trigger your asthma. Allergens, weather changes, and viral infections can all make your symptoms flare up.
Asthma symptoms occur when there’s swelling and constriction in your airways, along with increased mucus.
The most notable asthma symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- tightness in your chest
Sometimes you may experience additional symptoms that are considered unusual.
While this doesn’t mean the symptoms are rare, having unusual asthma symptoms could mean your treatment is not managing your condition well, or an asthma attack is about to happen.
Learn more about some unusual asthma symptoms and when to talk with your doctor about how you can manage them.
Sleeping difficulties may arise with asthma that isn’t well managed. You may experience issues with insomnia, for example.
Your airway function naturally decreases during sleep, especially if you have asthma.
If you have severe asthma and your treatment isn’t managing your symptoms well, you may find that traditional asthma symptoms, like coughing, are worse when you’re trying to get some shut-eye.
If it seems that you almost exclusively experience your symptoms at night, you may have a subtype called nocturnal asthma.
You can help decrease your risk for nighttime asthma symptoms by making sure triggers are left outside your sleeping space. This includes:
- dust mites
- animal dander
- mold spores
Also, talk with your doctor about medications that reduce airway inflammation, such as inhaled corticosteroids and leukotriene modifiers.
When you have an asthma flare-up, you may get a wheezy, wet cough.
In fact, coughing is the most noticeable symptom in more than 50% of people with asthma. You may also have a lingering cough after recovering from a cold or other infection that’s made your asthma symptoms worse.
Having only a chronic, dry cough is considered unusual in traditional asthma. It may instead be a sign of a subtype of asthma called cough-variant asthma. This is when you experience a constant cough without excess mucus. It is also known as an unproductive cough.
If your asthma symptoms make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep, you may experience daytime fatigue.
A chronic cough can also make you feel tired because you’re using energy while coughing.
When your body is working harder to get more oxygen through airways that are inflamed and constricted, you can experience fatigue on a regular basis.
Shortness of breath is a classic asthma symptom. It’s the result of airway constriction (tightening) during a flare-up.
Taking quick breaths is a more unusual asthma symptom, though. It’s done as a means of getting more oxygen into the lungs.
Rapid breathing may also come in the form of constant sighing or yawning. You may not even realize you’re doing it. While sighing is often due to stress or anxiety, it can occasionally be a sign of asthma.
One misconception about people with asthma is that you can’t or shouldn’t exercise. But asthma that’s well managed shouldn’t place any limitations on exercising.
Exercise-induced asthma is a subtype of asthma when physical activity triggers airway constriction and inflammation. Certain high intensity exercises that require deep, rapid breathing can also bring about your symptoms. This includes running.
Aside from the activity itself, other factors can trigger exercise-induced asthma,
- cold and dry air
- air pollution
If you find yourself having to use your rescue inhaler whenever you work out, this likely means your asthma treatment needs to be changed. You may need to see your doctor for a long-term management medication.
Some people with asthma may also experience an itchy face and throat in addition to the more traditional symptoms of wheezing and coughing.
These itchy sensations aren’t related to asthma itself but instead may be attributed to allergies. If allergens trigger your asthma symptoms, you may have a subtype of asthma called allergic asthma.
When you have allergic asthma, you may experience more traditional asthma symptoms along with:
- itchy skin
- itchiness in your throat
- skin rashes
- runny nose
- postnasal drip
The best way to reduce itchiness and other allergic asthma symptoms is to reduce contact with the substances that trigger your allergies. These may include:
- animal dander
- dust mites
- foods, such as nuts, milk, and seafood
Allergy shots, also called immunotherapy, are frequently an effective tool to manage allergic asthma and the other symptoms caused by environmental allergies.
While asthma symptoms are largely physical, it’s possible to experience effects on your mood, too. Some people with asthma have anxiety along with difficulty concentrating.
Long-term anxiety may also trigger your asthma, creating a cycle that’s hard to break.
What can be mistaken for asthma?
Some common conditions that can be mistaken for asthma include:
- inducible laryngeal obstruction (previously called vocal cord dysfunction)
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- congestive heart failure
- hyperventilation or panic attacks
- allergic rhinitis
- cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis
- central airway obstruction
What are some uncommon physical effects of asthma?
People with asthma may experience more unusual symptoms such as
- a constant, dry cough
- daytime fatigue
- sighing and quick breathing
- difficulty exercising
- itchy face or throat
How do you know if it’s asthma or something else?
There’s no single test to determine whether you have asthma.
If your symptoms and lung function test results don’t clearly point to asthma, your doctor can perform methacholine testing. This test measures the sensitivity of your airways if you have respiratory symptoms like coughing and chest tightening. If the test comes back negative, you may not have asthma.
What is a silent asthmatic?
Silent asthma is when you have asthma without the usual audible symptoms of coughing or wheezing.
Since there’s no cure for asthma, the only way to prevent flare-ups is to proactively manage your condition. This includes taking your medications as directed by your doctor and avoiding your triggers whenever possible.
Sometimes asthma can cause symptoms that go beyond the usual wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.
It’s especially important to watch out for these unusual asthma symptoms if you have a child or other loved one with asthma. These could be early signs of an upcoming flare-up or asthma attack.
If you consistently experience unusual asthma symptoms, it may be time to see your doctor to modify your current treatment plan.