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Asthma is a condition that can make it difficult to breathe. Asthma symptoms can be mild or severe, and they may come and go. Asthma attacks happen when the airways in the lungs become narrow and swell up. Asthma symptoms can include wheezing or noisy breathing, cough, a tight feeling in the chest, and shortness of  breath. For some people, asthma is a minor issue. For others, it can be a major problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

You can help prevent your symptoms by staying away from things that cause your symptoms or make them worse. Doctors call these “triggers”. Some common triggers include dust, mold, animal dander, pollen and plants, cigarette smoke, or stress. Because asthma often changes over time, it’s important that you work with your doctor to track your signs and symptoms and adjust treatment as needed.

Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu

For some people, asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:

  • Exercise-induced asthma, which may be worse when the air is cold and dry
  • Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace irritants such as chemical fumes, gas or dust
  • Allergy-induced asthma, triggered by airborne substances, such as pollen, mold spores, cockroach waste or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets (pet dander)

When to see your doctor:

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. See your doctor to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen — and when you need emergency treatment. Signs of an asthma emergency include:

  • Rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing
  • No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler, such as albuterol
  • Shortness of breath when you are doing minimal physical activity