Asthma Signs vs. Symptoms

A lot of times people get confused when differentiating between signs and symptoms. There is a difference and I wanted to take some time to explain the difference and how they pertain to asthma specifically.

Differentiating those differences

Clinically speaking a sign is objective and is something that can be seen and/or measured by someone else. A skin rash is classified as a sign.
A symptom is subjective. It is something that you can feel but other people cannot. For instance, a headache is a symptom.

Common Asthma Signs

Common Asthma Symptoms
Chest tightness
Shortness of breath

Some of the above signs and symptoms can be used interchangeably when severe enough. For instance, when shortness of breath is severe, it can become an outward sign. When wheezing is mild, it can only be heard with a stethoscope and/or felt by the asthmatic and be more of a symptom. And of course there are many many more signs and symptoms I could add to both, of these lists but for simplicity’s sake I just included the most common ones.

So why is this important when it comes to Asthma?

When having a conversation with your doctor it is important to be able to distinguish between asthma signs and symptoms especially when it comes to your symptoms. A doctor is only able to see your asthma signs *if* you happen to be having them when you are right there in his or her office at that specific moment. It’s up to you to be able to describe your asthma symptoms in detail to help give your doctor a better understanding of what is going on so you can both come up with an appropriate asthma action plan to help give you better asthma control.
It is also a very good idea to have a conversation with your family and close friends about your common asthma signs so they know what to watch out for if your asthma starts flaring and will know how to help you. Asthma can get very bad very fast and if your family and friends have a heads up as to where you keep your rescue inhaler they can grab it and help you if you ever need it. Never feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask them for help. When you can’t breathe nothing else matters.
If you are a family member and have a loved one with asthma, especially a child knowing their specific asthma signs is very important. Especially if they have any early warning signs. Common early asthma warning signs include nasal flaring, retractions around the ribs or collarbone (where the skin sucks in under the ribcage & between the ribs/collarbone when breathing in), excessive coughing, fussiness that is more than usual, extra tiredness etc. Since the little ones can’t tell you how they are feeling until they can talk and understand what is going on in their bodies it’s important to be able to catch those early signs if you can and then follow the asthma action plan from your doctor.

Advocate for yourself

Being your own best advocate is of utmost importance when it comes to communicating your asthma symptoms with your healthcare team. You know your body better than anyone.


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