The Difference Between Asthma and a Common Cold

If you have asthma, it may be difficult to tell when you’re catching a cold, and when your symptoms are simply aggravated by stress, environmental factors, or exercise levels. It’s important for your overall health that you not only understand the differences between cold symptoms and asthma, but that you are able to tell when another health issue is affecting your breathing so you can get help as soon as possible. It’s also important as parents that we are able to distinguish between asthma and a common cold in our children.

Underlying Cause of a Cold

The reason there’s no cure or vaccine for the common cold is because it isn’t actually that common. Well, not common enough to have one single be-all, end-all solution anyway. The coughing, sneezy, runny nose condition we call a cold is actually caused by one of hundreds of different viruses that all produce the same reaction, though the most commonly seen one is the rhinovirus. The symptoms all usually start with a sore throat and then progress to runny nose, and occasionally fever. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience a fever over 101℉, start seeing green or yellow mucus when you cough or blow your nose, or have severe pain in or around your sinuses.

Underlying Cause of Asthma

Asthma is characterized by allergens and other irritants causing airways to become obstructed or constricted. This in turn causes swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes, and an increased production of sticky mucus secretions that further obstruct airways and leads to worsened breathing problems. This makes it especially important that asthma sufferers do everything they can to avoid allergens, and keep rescue medications such as inhalers on hand to combat severe asthma attacks. In children who suffer from asthma, it’s important that all caregivers are furnished with an asthma action plan in order to quickly and adequately address a sudden onset of symptoms.

The Difference in Asthma and Common Cold Symptoms

It’s best to start with what symptoms are not caused by asthma. Asthma doesn’t cause fever, chills, achy muscles, or sore throat, so any one of these is cause for concern as they indicate something else is going on and are a good sign you should see a doctor. If you or your child experience these symptoms don’t write them off as asthma. They could be the sign of a serious respiratory infection.

On the other hand, typical asthma symptoms are frequent or chronic coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and a tight feeling in your chest. If you’re experiencing any of these, or you have a loved one who is, a doctor visit may be in order to rule out chronic asthma. These symptoms may feel like the start of a cold, or even the flu, but it’s important that asthma sufferers understand and recognize the difference in order to get proper treatment. It’s also important to be able to differentiate between something like seasonal allergies and the common cold, as allergens can greatly increase your risk of an asthma attack.

Avoiding a Cold if You Have Asthma

No one wants to get a cold, but it’s especially important to asthma sufferers and other people with compromised respiratory systems to avoid a cold that could worsen breathing problems. To avoid getting or spreading a cold, the CDC recommends the following:

  • Wash hands frequently with hot water and soap, for 20 seconds or more, and help small children do the same. If you can’t get to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Disinfect commonly touched surfaces such as doorknobs, cell phones, and tv remotes.
  • Isolate yourself from sick people.
  • Stay home if you have a cold to avoid getting others sick.

Getting Professional Help with Your Asthma

If you or your child are suffering with asthma, a cold, allergies, or other respiratory issues, contact Dr. Mayank Shukla today to schedule an appointment. Dr. Shukla is a leading respiratory specialist in the New York area, and he and his highly-trained staff would be delighted to help you get back on the road to easier breathing.

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