Asthma can develop at any time in life. You aren't necessarily born with it. In fact, a study showed that almost half of people with asthma developed it as an adult. If you don't recognize the symptoms of asthma -- and treat them properly -- your lungs can suffer damage. If you experience any of the following symptoms and they don't go away, work with your doctor to investigate their cause.
1. You have a chronic, persistent cough. This is probably among the the least surprising signs of asthma. A cough is your body's normal defense system at work. It's trying to expel irritants, such as pollen, smoke, and mucus from your lungs. A cough could stem from a cold or sinus infection that led to post-nasal drip, which can last up to several weeks. If your cough just doesn't seem to be letting up, talk to your doctor.
2. You're constantly getting bronchitis or had it frequently as a child. When you have bronchitis, your bronchial tubes, which carry oxygen to your lungs, become irritated and inflamed. When this happens, they make mucus and you cough because your body is trying to get rid of it. Having bronchitis often as a child may increase the likelihood of developing asthma as you get older. It's not known, though, whether bronchitis as a child causes asthma as an adult or just increases susceptibility to lung issues. Studies are underway to clarify the relationship between bronchitis and asthma. (Related: Boost your immune system's infection-fighting powers with these five foods.)
3. You're always clearing your throat. Your throat, nasal passages, and sinuses are lined with mucus membranes. If something irritates them, you produce even more mucus. When the mucus gets stuck in your throat, it's a natural reaction to try to clear it. The membranes in your throat may not be the only ones that are irritated. Having irritated mucus membranes in your throat and elsewhere could be a sign of asthma. Tell your doctor if you find you need to clear your throat quite often.
4. You get wheezy whenever you get a cold. Another sign of asthma is wheezing, especially when you have a cold. (Wheezing is a whistling or squeaking sound that air makes when it has trouble making it through your lungs.)
5. You wheeze or cough after exercise. Exercise is a common trigger for asthma. If you find after exercising you're wheezing and coughing quite a bit, it could be asthma. For some people, exercising in cold weather may cause this reaction. Keep track of your reaction to exercise -- in all temperatures -- and talk to your doctor.
6. You feel winded with light exercise. Do you feel tightness in your chest and/or winded after even light exercise? Do you have to sit down and catch your breath before you can continue? Unless you're really out of shape, it could be a sign of asthma.
7. You frequently cough at night. People who have asthma tend to cough when they're trying to sleep. The reason is that your airways naturally narrow a bit at night. When you have asthma, your airways are already narrowed. If they narrow even a little further, breathing becomes more difficult. You keep waking up because you have to cough. (Related: Sleep better with these six tips on controlling nighttime allergens.)
8. You're always tired. If your airways are swollen, you have to work harder to breathe, which can make you tired. Many people with asthma frequently complain of being tired.
9. You often lose your voice. Losing your voice frequently is probably not a symptom of asthma by itself, but when you seem to be hoarse and have some of the other symptoms, it's worth further investigation with your healthcare provider.
Whether you have classic or unusual asthma symptoms -- or a combination of both -- talk to your doctor. If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you can learn how to keep it under control and still lead an active, healthy lifestyle. (Related: Give your lungs a lift with this wonder food.)
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