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Many people do not know they have asthma, especially if their symptoms aren't severe. But any asthma symptom is serious and can become deadly.

The most common asthma symptoms are:

  • Coughing, especially at night, with exercise, or when laughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • Wheezing – a squeaky or whistling sound

Sometimes a cough that won't go away is the only symptom of asthma. Asthma symptoms often happen at night and in the morning, but they can happen any time. They get worse when you are around your asthma triggers.

Free asthma screenings are being scheduled in communities across the country. During a screening, you'll answer questions about your breathing, wheezing, coughing, itchy eyes and runny nose, take a simple breathing test that involves blowing into a tube, and meet with an allergist to discuss your results.

Asthma Attack

An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of symptoms. With an asthma attack, your airways tighten, swell up, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms of an asthma attack. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one attack and severe during another.

Status Asthmaticus (Severe Asthma Attacks)

Prolonged asthma attacks that do not respond to treatment with bronchodilators are a medical emergency. Doctors call these severe attacks "status asthmaticus" and they require immediate emergency care.

For more information, see WebMD's Status Asthmaticus.
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Allergy symptoms may include:

  • Breathing problems (coughing, shortness of breath)
  • Burning, tearing, or itchy eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (red, swollen eyes)
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Itching of the nose, mouth, throat, skin, or any other area
  • Runny nose
  • Skin rashes
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing

The part of the body the allergen touches affects what symptoms you develop. For example:

  • Allergens that you breathe in often cause a stuffy nose, itchy nose and throat, mucus production, cough, or wheezing
  • Allergens that touch the eyes may cause itchy, watery, red, swollen eyes
  • Eating something you are allergic to can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, diarrhea, or a severe, life-threatening reaction
  • Allergens that touch the skin can cause a skin rash, hives, itching, blisters, or skin peeling
  • Drug allergies usually involve the whole body and can lead to a variety of symptoms

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Symptoms of COPD may include:

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Many respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that gets worse with mild activity
  • Trouble catching one's breath
  • Wheezing

Because the symptoms of COPD develop slowly, some people may not know that they are sick.
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Chronic Cough

A chronic cough can occur with other signs and symptoms, which may include:

  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • A sensation of liquid running down the back of your throat
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Heartburn or a sour taste in your mouth
  • In rare cases, coughing up blood
When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have a cough that lingers, especially one that brings up sputum or blood, disturbs your sleep or affects your work.
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Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency

The most common indicators of Alpha-1 include shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and abnormal liver test results. If you have any of these symptoms there is a simple blood test that can determine if you have Alpha-1. This test is also recommended if you have relatives, especially siblings, who have been diagnosed with alpha-1, or if there is a family history of early emphysema, with or without smoking.

Family history of lung disease or liver disease symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing or non-responsive asthma
  • Coughing with or without sputum (phlegm) production
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Rapid deterioration of lung function
  • Unexplained liver problems and /or elevated liver enzymes

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Primary Immune Deficiency

One of the most common signs of primary immunodeficiency is an increased susceptibility to infections. You may have infections that are more frequent, longer lasting or harder to treat than are the infections of someone with a normal immune system. You may also get infections that a person with a healthy immune system likely wouldn't get (called opportunistic infections). There are more than 70 types of primary immunodeficiency disorders, and signs and symptoms differ depending on the particular type of disorder you have. Signs and symptoms also vary from person to person.

Signs and symptoms of primary immunodeficiency can include:

  • Frequent and recurrent ear infections, pneumonia, meningitis, bronchitis, sinus infections or skin infections
  • Blood infections

In addition to frequent infections, other problems that may occur include:

  • Inflammation and infection of internal organs, such as the liver
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes
  • Blood disorders, such as low platelet counts or anemia
  • Digestive problems, such as cramping, loss of appetite, nausea and diarrhea
  • Delayed growth and development
When to see a doctor

If you or your child has frequent, recurrent or severe infections, or infections that don't respond to usual treatments, talk to your doctor. While primary immune deficiencies are rare, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent infections that can cause long-term problems.
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The classic symptoms of acute sinusitis in adults usually follow a cold that does not improve, or one that worsens after 5 - 7 days of symptoms. Symptoms include:

  • Bad breath or loss of smell
  • Cough, often worse at night
  • Fatigue and generally not feeling well
  • Fever
  • Headache -- pressure-like pain, pain behind the eyes, toothache, or facial tenderness
  • Nasal congestion and discharge
  • Sore throat and postnasal drip

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis are the same as those of acute sinusitis, but tend to be milder and last longer than 12 weeks.

Symptoms of sinusitis in children include:

  • Cold or respiratory illness that has been improving and then begins to get worse
  • High fever, along with a darkened nasal discharge, for at least 3 days
  • Nasal discharge, with or without a cough, that has been present for more than 10 days and is not improving

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Recurring Ear Infections

The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid.


Signs and symptoms common in children include:

  • Ear pain, especially when lying down
  • Tugging or pulling at an ear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Crying more than usual
  • Acting more irritable than usual
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
  • Loss of balance
  • Headache
  • Fever of 100 F (38 C) or higher
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Common signs and symptoms in adults include:

  • Ear pain
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Diminished hearing
  • Sore throat
When to see a doctor 

Signs and symptoms of an ear infection can indicate a number of different conditions. It's important to get an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. Call your child's doctor if:

  • Symptoms last for more than a day
  • Ear pain is severe
  • Your infant or toddler is sleepless or irritable after a cold or other upper respiratory infection
  • You observe a discharge of fluid, pus, or bloody discharge from the ear

An adult with ear pain or discharge should see a doctor as soon as possible.
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Migraines/Sinus Headache

The four groups of sinus cavities in the head are hollow air spaces with openings into the nose for exchange of air and mucus. They're located inside each cheekbone, behind the eyes, behind the bridge of the nose, and in the forehead. Secretions from the sinus cavities normally drain into the nose.

Sinus headaches and pain occur when the sinuses are swollen and their openings into the nasal passages are obstructed, stopping normal drainage and causing pressure to build up. Often the pain is localized over the affected sinus, perhaps causing facial pain rather than a headache. For example, if the maxillary sinus in the cheeks is obstructed, your cheeks may be tender to the touch and pain may radiate to your jaw and teeth. Other sinuses can cause pain on the top of your head, or elsewhere. Sinus pain can be dull to intense, often begins in the morning, and becomes less intense after you move from a lying down to an upright position.

Similar pain can also be caused by severe nasal congestion, particularly if you have a septal deviation or septal "spur" from a previous nasal injury. Such "headaches" or facial pain can involve one side only.

Oral or nasal spray decongestants often help relieve symptoms of facial pain headache due to nasal or sinus blockage. Antihistamines are generally less helpful. Obstructed sinuses can get infected, requiring more intensive treatment, including antibiotics.

One hint that allergy might play a role in your sinus headaches or facial pain is if you have other upper airway symptoms such as the itching, sneezing and runny nose of seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Allergy is not usually a direct cause of these types of headaches when the other allergic rhinitis symptoms are not present. Allergic reactions to things like airborne pollens, dust, animal dander, molds, as well as foods, can lead to sinus obstruction. Treatment of the underlying allergic cause of sinus pain can result in long-term relief. Medications used to treat allergies include antihistamines, decongestants, intranasal steroids and cromolyn. In some cases, allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots), may be recommended. When possible, of course, avoid the allergen if an avoidable substance causes your allergy.
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Uncontrolled Itching

Because these skin conditions have such varied causes, the associated symptoms are also extremely diverse. Like other medical conditions, the symptoms a person will experience when he/she suffers from skin irritation or rashes will depend on the exact cause of the condition. Some of the most common symptoms associated with skin irritation and rashes include:

  • burning, tingling, or stinging sensation
  • changes in skin's texture
  • cracked skin
  • dry skin
  • flaky or scaly skin
  • pain
  • redness
  • small blisters
  • thickened skin.

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Contact Dermatitis (Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac)

Symptoms vary depending on the cause and whether the dermatitis is due to an allergic reaction or an irritant. The same person may also have different symptoms over time.

Allergic reactions may occur suddenly, or only after months of being exposed to a substance.

Your hands are a common site for contact dermatitis. Hair products, cosmetics, and perfumes often lead to skin reactions on the face, head, and neck. Jewelry can also cause skin problems in the area under it.

Itching of the skin in exposed areas is a common symptom. In the case of an allergic dermatitis, itching can be severe. Dermatitis caused by an irritant may also cause burning or pain.

Allergic dermatitis often causes a red, streaky, or patchy rash where the substance touched the skin. The allergic reaction is often delayed, with the rash appearing 24 - 48 hours after exposure. The rash may:

  • Have red bumps that may form moist, weeping blisters
  • Feel warm and tender
  • Ooze, drain, or crust
  • Become scaly, raw, or thickened

Irritant dermatitis often shows as dry, red, and rough skin. Cuts (fissures) may form on the hands. Skin may become inflamed with long-term exposure.
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Skin Rashes

Signs and symptoms of rash include:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Blisters

The severity of the rash depends on the allergen or irritant that gets on your skin. A section of skin that seems more affected may develop a rash sooner.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • The reaction is severe or widespread
  • The rash affects your face or genitals
  • Blisters are oozing pus
  • You develop a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
  • The rash doesn't get better within a few weeks

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Urticaria (Chronic Hives)

Hives generally:

  • Appear as small round wheals, rings or large patches and may change shape
  • Itch and may be surrounded by a red flare
  • Occur in batches, and often appear on the face or the extremities

Individual hives can last from 30 minutes to 36 hours. As some hives disappear, new hives may develop.

About 40 percent of people with chronic hives also have angioedema. Signs and symptoms of angioedema include large welts or swelling of the skin that may occur around the eyes and lips, hands, feet, genitalia, and inside the throat. Swelling in the throat can obstruct breathing and requires emergency treatment. Angioedema may itch less than hives do, but can cause pain or burning.

Symptoms may not occur all the time. They may come and go with no apparent trigger. For some people, certain conditions — such as heat, exertion or stress — can make symptoms worse.

When to see a doctor

Although chronic hives and angioedema usually aren't life-threatening, they can be debilitating — and in some cases are a sign of an underlying health problem.

See your doctor if you have:

  • Severe hives
  • Hives that don't respond to treatment
  • Hives that continue to appear for several days

Seek emergency care if you:

  • Feel lightheaded
  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Feel your throat is swelling

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Angioedema is a reaction similar to hives that affects deeper layers of your skin, the tissues underneath your skin, and the lining of your throat and intestines. Angioedema often appears around your eyes, cheeks or lips, but can also develop on your hands or feet, or genitals, or inside your throat or bowel.  Angioedema and hives can occur separately or at the same time.

Signs and symptoms of angioedema include:

  • Large, thick, firm welts
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Pain or warmth in the affected areas
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing, in severe cases

Hereditary angioedema is a rare but more serious inherited (genetic) condition that can cause sudden, severe and rapid swelling of your face, arms, legs, hands, feet, genitalia, digestive tract and airway. Signs and symptoms of hereditary angioedema include:

  • Sudden and severe swelling of the face, arms, legs, hands, feet, genitalia, digestive tract and airway
  • Abdominal cramping as a result of digestive tract swelling
  • Difficulty breathing due to swelling that obstructs your airway

Hereditary angioedema is not usually accompanied by hives.

When to see a doctor 

Mild hives and angioedema usually aren't life-threatening. You can usually treat mild cases at home.

See your doctor if:

  • Your hives or angioedema doesn't respond to treatment
  • You have severe discomfort
  • Your symptoms continue for more than a few days

Seek emergency care if:

  • You feel lightheaded
  • You have severe chest tightness or trouble breathing
  • You feel your throat is swelling

HAE may also cause swelling in a variety of other locations, most commonly the limbs, genitals, neck, throat and face. The pain associated with these swellings varies from mildly uncomfortable to agonizing pain, depending on its location and severity. Predicting where and when the next episode of edema will occur is impossible. Most patients have an average of one episode per month, but there are also patients who have weekly episodes or only one or two episodes per year. The triggers can vary and include infections, minor injuries, mechanical irritation, operations or stress. In most cases, edema develops over a period of 12–36 hours and then subsides within 2–5 days.
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Insect Allergies (Bee Sting)

Bee stings can produce different reactions, ranging from temporary pain and discomfort to a severe allergic reaction. Having one type of reaction doesn't mean you'll always have the same reaction every time you're stung.

Minor reaction

Most of the time, signs and symptoms of a bee sting are minor and include:

  • Instant, sharp burning pain at the sting site
  • A red welt at the sting area
  • A small, white spot where the stinger punctured the skin
  • Slight swelling around the sting area

In most people, swelling and pain go away within a few hours.

Large local reaction

About 10 percent of people who get stung by a bee or other insect have a bit stronger reaction (large local reaction), with signs and symptoms such as:

  • Extreme redness
  • Swelling at the site of the sting that gradually enlarges over the next day or two

Large local reactions tend to resolve over five to 10 days. Having a large local reaction doesn't mean you'll have a severe allergic reaction the next time you're stung. But some people develop similar large local reactions each time they're stung. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about treatment and prevention.

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to bee stings is potentially life-threatening and requires emergency treatment. About 3 percent of people who are stung by a bee or other insect quickly develop anaphylaxis. Signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Skin reactions in parts of the body other than the sting area, including hives and itching and flushed or pale skin (almost always present with anaphylaxis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of consciousness

People who have a severe allergic reaction to a bee sting have a 30 to 60 percent chance of anaphylaxis the next time they're stung. Talk to your doctor or an allergy specialist about prevention measures such as immunotherapy to avoid a similar reaction in case you get stung again.

Multiple bee stings

Generally, insects such as bees and wasps aren't aggressive and only sting in self-defense. In most cases, this results in one or perhaps a few stings. However, in some cases a person will disrupt a hive or swarm of bees and get stung multiple times. Some types of bees — such as Africanized honeybees — are more likely than are other bees to swarm, stinging in a group.

If you get stung more than a dozen times, the accumulation of venom may induce a toxic reaction and make you feel quite sick. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Vertigo
  • Feeling faint or fainting
  • Convulsions
  • Fever

Multiple stings can be a medical emergency in children, older adults, and people who have heart or breathing problems.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, bee stings don't require a visit to your doctor. In more-severe cases:

Call 911 or other emergency services if:

  • You're having a serious reaction to a bee sting that suggests anaphylaxis, even if it's just one or two signs or symptoms.

If you were prescribed an emergency epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen, Twinject), use it right away as your doctor directed.

Seek prompt medical care if:

  • You've been swarmed by bees and have multiple stings.

Make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • Bee sting symptoms don't go away within a few days.
  • You've had other symptoms of an allergic response to a bee sting.

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