Symptoms and diagnosis
In people with asthma, the airways are overly sensitive. This chronic disease typically comes in episodes or "attacks" of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. These symptoms could also be signs of other diseases, though. So before starting with treatment, it's important to find out what exactly is causing the breathing problems.
The mucous membranes lining the airways of people with chronic asthma are constantly on stand-by, ready to trigger an inflammatory response. This means that certain triggers can set off a very rapid and very intense reaction. Compared to people who have healthy lungs, their mucous membranes are red and swollen, and more blood flows through them. The cells in the membranes produce thick and sticky mucus. If an asthma trigger is present too, the muscles surrounding the walls of the airways tighten as well. Together, all of these factors cause the bronchi (lung airway passages) to become narrow and prevent air from flowing freely in and out of the lungs. This leads to shortness of breath.
A severe asthma attack feels a bit like trying to breathe only through a straw for a few minutes. Even if you suck air out of it and blow air into it as hard as you can, you are unable to get enough air into and out of your lungs.