How to Recognize the Signs
Did you know asthma affects 27 million Americans? This equates to approximately 1 in 12 people. It also affects females more than males, with 10.8% of adult females being affected as opposed to 6.5% of adult males. It is also the leading chronic disease in children, affecting 4.5 million children.
As someone who has had asthma since I was a child, and who now has a child with asthma, it can be scary to suffer from asthma, especially when symptoms are not clear-cut. This is especially true when we are suffering from silent asthma.
What is Silent Asthma?
As asthma sufferers, we are typically aware of our classic symptoms of asthma. Wheezing is common, as is shortness of breath and common. However, “silent asthma” is a little different.
Jorge Mercado, M.D., the associate section chief of the pulmonary department at NYU Langone Hospital in New York City, says, “With silent asthma, the condition doesn't manifest as clearly as the other types. It can sometimes come only with a chronic dry cough and no other indication that there's a problem.”
What Are Silent Asthma Symptoms?
As noted previously, classic asthma symptoms include wheezing and shortness of breath. Silent asthma symptoms are a little bit different, which makes it more difficult to diagnose. Common symptoms of silent asthma include the following:
- Distress and anxiety.
- Fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Chest tightness.
- Shortness of breath, especially that is disproportionate to the activity that has been performed.
- Difficulty speaking.
- Trouble sleeping, particularly staying asleep due to issues with breathing.
- Yawning and/or sighing often.
When these symptoms progress, you must seek emergency treatment. Emergency symptoms include:
- Rapid breathing.
- Dizziness or passing out.
- An inability to talk due to rapid breathing.
- Breathing retractions that cause sinking or sucking in of the muscles between the ribs.
Suffering from a chronic medical condition - any chronic medical condition - can increase the likelihood of developing anxiety and depression. If you feel that you may be developing anxiety or depression, you must discuss this with your healthcare provider. In addition to the stress of dealing with a chronic medical condition, shortness of breath can worsen anxiety so you must be having frank discussions with your provider as well as receiving proper treatment.
Treatment of Asthma
Silent asthma treatment requires the same treatment as a traditional asthma diagnosis. These treatments may include avoiding triggers, taking medications as prescribed and creating an asthma action plan.
Triggers are highly individualized - what triggers one person's asthma may not trigger another person's asthma. Here are some common triggers:
- Cold air.
- Sudden weather changes.
- Allergens such as mold, dust, animal dander and pollen.
- Respiratory infections.
- Hormonal changes.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Irritants such as smoke, air pollution and chemical fumes.
There are a variety of asthma medications available. Some medications are taken daily, whereas others are taken on an as-needed basis.
Long-term control medications are used to treat chronic symptoms as well as prevent asthma attacks. These medications are extremely important for people with chronic asthma symptoms. Examples of these types of medications include:
- Inhaled corticosteroids.
- Leukotriene modifiers.
- Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs).
- Long-acting muscarinic agonists (LAMAs).
- Combination inhalers.
Rescue medications are used for short-term relief of symptoms. They help treat and prevent asthma attacks. Examples of these types of medications include:
- Oral corticosteroids.
Biologics are used as an adjunct to other therapies to stop biological responses that cause inflammation in the lungs, thus improving severe asthma symptoms. Examples of these types of medications include:
- Benralizumab (Fasenra).
- Dupilumab (Dupixent).
- Mepolizumab (Nucala).
- Omalizumab (Xolair).
- Reslizumab (Cinqair).
- Tezepelumab-ekko (Tezspire).
Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is created by you and your healthcare provider. It spells out exactly what you need to do to manage your asthma symptoms daily, when symptoms get worse, when you are exercising and when you get sick. It should also outline what you need to do when your symptoms worsen.
Who benefits from an asthma action plan? Everyone with asthma, regardless of the severity of asthma. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, please speak to your healthcare provider.