Is chest pain a symptom of asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in a person's airways, which can make it harder to breathe. People often experience chest pain after an asthma attack if their airways are especially inflamed and constricted.
It is essential that people with asthma understand which chest pain related symptoms might occur so they can seek treatment, if necessary.
Does asthma cause chest pain?
The coughing and wheezing experienced during an asthma attack can lead to chest discomfort afterward. When this occurs, a person should consider their symptoms, noting, for example, whether their chest is sore or whether they are feeling a sharp pain.
Two primary medical conditions can cause chest pain following an asthma attack: pneumomediastinum and pneumothorax.
Asthma can cause airways to become inflamed, leading to chest tightness and pain.
This condition happens when a person develops air in their mediastinum, which is the space between the lungs and the other organs in the chest cavity, including the heart.
A pneumomediastinum can increase pressure in the lungs that can cause pain. The condition is rare but can occur in those with asthma, most commonly in younger people.
The pain will usually radiate to the neck or back. Other symptoms may include:
- difficulty swallowing
- neck pain
- shortness of breath
- spitting up mucus
If a person has a pneumomediastinum, the condition will usually resolve itself. However, a person will often feel some chest discomfort and pain while the condition improves.
Sometimes, this increase in pressure can lead to pneumothorax.
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A pneumothorax occurs when a lung collapses and air leaks into the space between the lungs and the chest wall. According to an article in the Journal of Thoracic Disease, spontaneous pneumothorax often occurs in young, healthy adults who have asthma.
Pneumothorax symptoms include:
- breathing fast
- rapid heart rate
- respiratory distress
People experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention as a large pneumothorax can be fatal if left untreated.
When someone has a pneumothorax, a doctor may have to insert a small tube into the chest to relieve pressure and re-inflate the lung.
People with asthma might experience chest pain that is related to musculoskeletal or chest wall pain. This pain might be due to the coughing and wheezing associated with asthma. The pain will usually worsen when a person takes a deep breath.
What happens during an asthma attack?
Exposure to allergens can cause asthma attacks.
The lungs are like trees with many branches, but instead of leaves at the end, there are balloon-like air sacs that inflate and deflate to help a person breathe. The tree's trunk and the branches that lead from it are all part of the airways.
These airways are usually open, allowing oxygen to fill the air sacs in the lungs. However, when a person has asthma, the linings of the airways become inflamed and irritated or can swell or have extra mucus present.
These situations can make breathing harder because a person cannot move as much air through a smaller airway.
Sometimes, people can experience an acute asthma flare-up known as an asthma attack.
Asthma attack triggers
Triggers of an asthma attack include:
- exposure to pollen or other allergens
- inhaling fumes, dust, or gases
These triggers will irritate the airways, causing them to become inflamed and swell. People will likely start coughing, sneezing, and have generalized difficulty breathing.
Asthma attack treatments
Sometimes, people with asthma will use an inhaler to open up the airways and reduce inflammation.
If someone does not have an inhaler, they may need to seek emergency medical treatment.
Using an inhaler or reducing allergen exposure may not improve a person's symptoms if an asthma attack is very severe.
When should you see a doctor?
Some symptoms associated with an asthma attack require emergency treatment.
- blue tint to the face, lips, and fingernails, which indicates a lack of oxygen
- breathing very fast, such that the nostrils flare or with chest retractions
- feeling as if one cannot move any air when breathing
Anyone experiencing chest pain chest should not ignore it, as it can indicate a heart attack. If a person is not sure whether their pain is related to their asthma or their heart, they should seek medical care for diagnosis.
It is essential that people with asthma manage their condition as much as possible, and see a doctor when experiencing an acute asthma attack. Repeated asthma attacks can cause inflammation and discomfort.
People will ideally be able to find a suitable combination of medications and behaviors, such as avoiding their asthma triggers, to reduce the incidence of asthma attacks.
Doctors may prescribe various medications to help with asthma symptoms.
Asthma is a medical condition that affects the lungs, but it can also cause some other symptoms. A person may experience chest pain following an asthma attack or incidence of wheezing.
If someone experiences severe chest pain, they should not ignore it. This is especially true if:
- there is pain down one arm
- a person is nauseated
- pain radiates to the neck and back
If someone is not sure whether their chest pain is related to asthma or their heart, seeking medical attention is the safest way to ensure they are not experiencing a collapsed lung or heart attack.