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Describing Symptoms

I am trying to figure out how to describe my symptoms, or if I am describing them in a way that makes sense. I hear things like "elephant on the chest" or "tight chest" but they don't always seem right to me. This is how I describe my symptoms:



weird feeling

like someone or the muscles are squeezing my chest really hard

Like a band is wrapped tightly around my chest


undefined breathing issues

paper bag around my lungs or breathing with a wet bag

Slow to the point that it seems like I forget to breathe

Like I can feel my lungs deflate if I exhale too much (this one is usually when I am lying down at night to sleep)

Like there is a vacuum right in front of my nose and mouth and I have to fight for each breath.

Like I am not getting enough air.


I have had a case of hyperventilation, and that one feels like I am trying to gasp in air but there is no room for the air to enter, causing pain because it can't fit the air in. None of these descriptions above involve those feelings of hyperventilation.

I have other minor symptoms that are easier: no energy, fatigue, klutzy/absent mindness, etc. Not worried about those so much.

I would love to know how other people describe some of these more common symptoms. If I am describing them wrong, that might cause confusion with my doctor (and in Japan with my husband translating, getting it right is super important)

7 Replies

It sounds to me like you need to you need to get to your gp ASAP get it diagnosed proper. Best advice I could give. Good luck


These aren't all at once---just how I describe them at various times. But I have to filter them through my husband, so I am trying to find the best way to describe them--maybe my way is not right or weird. I've pretty much had all the tests done--spiro and a few other breathing tests plus x-ray and blood tests for possible allergies. They even had me do that home sleep test way back when. Best I have gotten is that yup, it's asthma, but my husband and I often struggle in explaining my symptoms to my doctor in an adequate manner. My descriptions don't always translate well, but I feel they are honest.


Wait--are you saying these are really bad symptoms? I know I sound dense, but I am still figuring this all out. Before I was diagnosed, I was coughing so hard that I thought I would break a rib. Everything now seems tame to what I was going through prior to diagnosis. If these are signs that my asthma is still bad, I need to know so I have a better point of comparison.


I describe mine as "imagine you have just completed a 100m run and when you finish there is a point when your breathing just there, and you are gasping, well that's the best I can do"

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I have used that on my husband but never tried with my doctor! The other day I tried to clean my dog's pen (no allergies, so no problems with a pet) and it felt like I had run a marathon and like someone had beat me over with a stick to boot. I gotta try that one with my doctor. Marathon.


Wow that's a challenge! I assume you have discussed with your husband as a Japanese speaker in case there are any language quirks you need to consider? I find it hard to describe in English as a native speaker to English doctors, and my job is in medical communications lol.

I often feel like a snake is squeezing my chest or like I'm wearing a tight corset when my chest is tight. That sounds similar to what you say but I think yours is better as simpler.You could perhaps show with your hands where you get this feeling - I got some scepticism and attempts to tell me it was hyperventilation until I showed them where my chest felt tight.

I often feel like I have to work hard to push air out when bad, do you feel similar (in case this description is helpful)? I generally feel more like the effort is in getting air out not in, and I will emphasise that if trying to describe my worse symptoms.

I may also try to put it in terms of what makes me breathless eg fast walking, normal walking, slow walking, going to the bathroom, using my phone to text, doing nothing at all (basically that is me from my normal to my go to hospital mode). So you could try putting it in terms of how it affects your activities and when you might notice it eg 'if the pollution is bad I get more breathless even walking very slowly and I feel like I have to make more.effort to breathe'.

I hope this helps a bit. It sounds like you are still having some problems if you're getting those symptoms even if not all the time so I hope you can get it across to the doctor. Are there any who speak English so you could remove the translation issue - can you ask any other English speakers you know there how you could find respiratory drs who speak good English?

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Thanks, Lysistrata! Those are some good descriptions I should try :) My husband watches me like a hawk, so he has gotten good at noticing when my breathing is bad and I am struggling. Can't hide anything from him XD We talk a lot about how to describe the symptoms, so I have had to try many different ways to explain it and my husband seems to understand these the best. But I like the tight corset and snake one.

I always forget to pay attention to if it is inhaling or exhaling that is the biggest struggle. When I was young, I took a lot of singing classes so I now naturally breathe through my nose and use diaphragmatic breathing techniques, normally without thinking about it. I just know that when I actually *am* hyperventilating, it feels like air won't fit into my lungs anymore--like my lungs are too full. Asthma is different because it is just difficult to breathe, but I really struggle in explaining that . My doctor has given me the "hyperventilation thing" last time I was super bad, and my husband got upset with him for not listening (it was end of shift, near lunch, last minute sudden that probably didn't help us any).

I will have to tr and emphasize the impact to life like you suggest. When I am bad, I move like a grandma. Just going the few feet from the living room to the bathroom is a horrible challenge and I avoid the stairs at all costs (which is hard since most of my things are upstairs, including my bed) . The worse I am, the less house chores get done and it does impact my work, too. I am self employed, though, so no time off for me XD

I am currently trying to find how much air pollution impacts my asthma. I know it does, but not to what degree. It seems like crazy weather patterns (wind, constantly changing) are huge factors for me, more so than anything else.

I keep expecting the doctor to review my meds because I think it is obvious that I am really struggling to manage my asthma right now ( have used my relief inhaler at least 3-5 times a day for the last month) but all he did was put me on some pred pills. They help, yeah, almost instantly, but I keep feeling like I shouldn't be using my reliever so much every day like this. To be fair, I just started last month taking it for any little symptoms to try and prevent them from getting worse. And sometimes, they still get worse. Yesterday, there were some patients with bad cases of the flu, so I felt like the doctor tried to kind of get me out quickly to avoid me catching it. I am trying to think of another way to get the doctor to review my meds without pushing too hard. One thing working against me is that my peak flow and oxygen levels are often within the 80% zone even when I am showing symptoms, sometimes even at my best.

The medical system in Japan is really complex. It is hard to explain, though I wrote a blog entry complaining about it because I really needed to vent XD Getting a second opinion won't be easy because of how the system works as well as this doctor being one of the few in the prefecture. He is about 20 minutes away by car, while any other ones are well over 2 hours.


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