Bronchial asthma is a long-term condition that affects the lungs. It can cause symptoms of breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing.

The condition inflames the tubes, or bronchioles, in the lungs. When the tubes are swollen, they are narrower than they should be, making breathing difficult. Bronchial asthma is another name for asthma.

Bronchial asthma is common, affecting around 1 in 13 people in the United States. It affects most people from childhood.

There is no cure for asthma. People can manage the condition by using medication and avoiding triggers. Triggers are things that make their asthma worse.

This article will explain bronchial asthma, its symptoms, and what causes it. It will also outline how doctors diagnose and treat it, as well as look at the possible complications of the condition.

person using an asthma inhalerShare on Pinterest
Burak Karademir/Getty Images

The signs and symptoms of bronchial asthma can come and go. They tend to include:

  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing, or a whistling sound when the person breathes out
  • coughing, particularly at night, soon after waking up, or with exercise

Different people experience the condition in different ways.

The symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some people may experience the occasional wheeze. However, others may sometimes experience symptoms so severe that their airways can close up, which can be fatal.

Learn more about the types of bronchial asthma here.

To diagnose asthma, doctors will typically do the following:

Take a personal and medical history

The doctor will usually ask the person about their symptoms, including when they started and what they feel like.

They will also ask about any other medical conditions the person and their biological family members may have.

Perform a physical exam

The doctor will usually look at the person’s ears, eyes, nose, throat, and skin. They will likely use a stethoscope to listen to the individual’s chest and lungs.

They may also use a pulse oximeter. The pulse oximeter is a device that goes on the end of the person’s finger and measures the oxygen level in their blood. Sometimes, the doctor will also recommend a lung or sinus X-ray.

Perform lung function tests

Lung function tests can measure how well the person can breathe.

After performing the test, the doctor will usually ask the person to inhale a bronchodilator. This is a medication that opens the airways. The doctor will then perform the test again and compare the results.

Common lung function tests include:

  • Spirometry: measures how much the person breathes in and out, and how fast they breathe out
  • The FeNO test: helps doctors understand how much inflammation is in the airways
  • Bronchial provocation tests: measure how sensitive a person’s lungs are to particular triggers

Perform blood tests

Doctors may sometimes check the person’s immune system using blood tests.

If they have high levels of eosinophils, which are a type of white blood cell, or immunoglobulin E (IgE), which is an antibody, they may have severe asthma.

Researchers do not know what causes bronchial asthma. Some things can make developing the condition more likely. Doctors call these risk factors.

Risk factors

The risk factors for bronchial asthma include:

  • a family history of asthma
  • having an allergic health condition, such as eczema or hay fever
  • a family history of allergic health conditions, such as eczema or hay fever
  • having exposure to cigarette smoke or other forms of air pollution

Triggers

Asthma symptoms tend to come and go. Most people find that some things will set their symptoms off. Doctors call these triggers.

Triggers differ for everyone but might include:

  • respiratory infections, such as flu, colds, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or sinus infections
  • allergies
  • pollen
  • dust mites
  • breathing in cigarette smoke
  • breathing in cold, dry air
  • breathing in chemicals
  • air pollution
  • pet hair
  • mold
  • acid reflux
  • exercise
  • medications
  • bad weather, including thunderstorms and high humidity
  • food additives
  • fragrances or perfumes
  • cleaning products
  • stress or anxiety

There are several ways to treat bronchial asthma.

First, people can learn their triggers and try to avoid them. People with asthma who smoke can try to quit. People with asthma who are overweight or have obesity can try to reach a healthier body weight.

Doctors sometimes recommend inhalers, which are devices that deliver medication straight to the lungs. There are two main types of inhaler:

  • Controller inhalers: These contain long-acting medications that help prevent airways from becoming inflamed in the first place. Doctors may suggest that people with asthma use a preventer inhaler once or more daily.
  • Rescue inhalers: These contain quick-acting medications that reduce the swelling in the airways straight away. Doctors tend to recommend that people use a rescue inhaler when they feel asthma symptoms coming on.

The right course of treatment will depend on many factors. These can include how severe the person’s symptoms are, what is causing them, and how often they experience them. For example, people experiencing longer-term inflammation may receive corticosteroids.

Doctors will typically provide an individual treatment plan for someone with bronchial asthma.

What to do when inhalers do not work?

Sometimes, bronchial asthma attacks are so severe that rescue medications do not work. People may also have an asthma attack when they do not have their rescue inhaler.

This can be very dangerous. The Allergy and Asthma Network offers the following advice:

  • Sit upright to keep the airways open.
  • Keep calm because panicking can make symptoms worse.
  • Take slow, deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Move away from any triggers.

If these steps do not help, the person will need emergency medical care. Call 911 or a local emergency number.

Bronchial asthma can affect the daily activities and mood of a person. Some complications include:

  • an inability to exercise
  • a reduction in lung function
  • a reduction in productivity — for example, while at work or school
  • constant feelings of tiredness
  • poor sleep
  • poor mental health

People should contact their doctor if they feel their condition is affecting their quality of life.

Doctors sometimes refer to asthma as bronchial asthma. It is a long-term condition that inflames the airways. This makes it difficult for air to get into the lungs. The symptoms, which tend to come and go, can include tightness in the chest and breathlessness.

Doctors will perform a variety of tests to diagnose asthma. These include routine tests and some specialized tests, such as lung function tests.

There is no cure for asthma. However, there are things people can do to manage their symptoms. These include avoiding triggers and using inhalers. Doctors will recommend a treatment plan based on the person’s symptoms.

Sometimes, asthma symptoms can be so severe that the airways close up, and the person finds breathing very difficult. When this happens, they will need emergency medical attention.