Asthma/Constantly coughing up phlegm, not sure if this is asthma
QUESTION: I'm not sure if I have asthma or not, and don't worry, I'm in college now but once I get home, I'm going to a doctor to get this checked, but I kind of wanted an answer now, just so I understand what's going on.
The problem is that, for as long as I can remember, I've been coughing up phlegm. Not in an obnoxious, I have TB and I need to go to the doctor sort of way, I just feel something in my throat and I need to either swallow it or spit it out but swallowing it feels weird so I spit it out and its phlegm! usually clear, if I'm sick it might be a different color, but even when I'm perfectly healthy, no colds, no medications, no nothing, I have to spit up at least 5-6 times a day, it's getting kind of ridiculous.
I don't smoke at all, I've done hookah three times in my entire life so, there's none of that, I don't do drugs, and I don't really sleep that well, I've got a very stressful educational career so it keeps me busy. I eat as healthy as any college student can, and most of my exercise is comprised of running around campus to get from class to class, but my campus is in Pittsburgh so its full of hills, its definitely a work out to get from point a to point b. I'm originally from India but I've been living in central NJ for almost 12 years now, and the spitting up phlegm used to be an issue there too, this isn't something that's come up recently. I don't have any pets anymore, I used to have a guinea pig and sometimes I had a little difficulty breathing around him but I never said anything because it usually went away and he seemed to be the only animal that did that to me, I've been exposed to dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, cows, pigs, etc etc etc all my life but just that particular guinea pig, sometimes when I was cuddling with him, it would get hard to breathe. I take no medicine, except for vitamin D pills and I've had absolutely no medical conditions, no allergies, or anything. But to be fair, I think difficulty breathing may be something that runs in my family, my mom says that even as an infant, I struggled with breathing, even opting to breathe out of my mouth instead, something I remember doing as a child as well. My father has similar issues, both of our noses get congested to the point where breathing is difficult to impossible, even though there's nothing else wrong with us, no colds, no sickness, in the absolute prime of health but for some reason, our noses are clogged and I keep spitting up phlegm. Someone suggested that this may be asthma and I wanted an experts opinion, does this sound like asthma? I'm getting tired of not being able to breathe as well and constantly coughing up mucus for no apparent reason so even if this isn't asthma, if you could guide me in the right direction, that would be greatly appreciated. Thank you
ANSWER: Hello Sheena,
It sounds as if you have allergic rhinitis. Your response to your guinea pig gives a clue that yes you do have some allergy issues. With allergic rhinitis, you have increased secretions, dripping down the back of your throat, which will lead to increased mucus buildup in your lungs. You may want to enter your email and ZIP code address on a site called Pollen.com. You could then watch for a correlation between elevated pollen & pollution levels, and if there's a change in your breathing.
In the meantime, I'd suggest trying in over-the-counter antihistamine like Allegra or Zyrtec to see if they have any impact on your problem. If you see improvement, but it doesn't fully clear, the preferred treatment is a nasal steroid spray such as fluticasone. These are prescription products.
With asthma, you could have tightness in the chest with coughing, and potentially waking up in the middle of the night with difficulty breathing. You typically would also wake up feeling fatigued since you would not have a good exchange of oxygen while you're sleeping at night. The only way to really verify asthma is by having lung testing done with a special tool called a spirometer. While increased mucus is prevalence in asthma, the other symptoms seem to be missing in your description. This is not to say that it couldn't further develop into asthma at a later point in time. Most asthma is due to allergies, and some people do develop it is an adult.
Hope this helps you. Try the antihistamine, and if you have further problems or questions please feel free to get back to me.
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QUESTION: Thank you, I'll definitely get some tests done to confirm. I had one other issue that I forgot to put in the previous email, I've noticed that the phlegm I've been coughing up for the past year or so has little black strands in it. I don't know what they are, and it's not like it happens all the time, but I'm a little confused because whenever I try to google what it could be, all I get back are results for chronic smokers and marijuana users, however I do neither of those things, and I live in the very clean part of pittsburgh, very little construction, and not a lot of smog or anything. And the area I live in NJ is suburbs, there are no busses, no factories, all just houses and vallies, so why do I have black in my phlegm??
My concern of what the black streaking is, if you are coughing a lot, some small blood vessels may break, and the streaking may be due to the released blood. I spoke with a friend who is an infectious disease specialist, and said that this is not something of fungal or mold nature, and really without full information whether it's an infection, that would be something only determined by testing.
Please, keep me posted.