Newbie with rapid onset of lung-related symptoms (Asthma, COPD, virus?)

Hello everybody!

I am new here and have found reading through people's comments and experience very helpful so far, so thank you!

I wanted to see if anyone has any ideas on some symptoms I have been experiencing over the past 2 weeks - my doctor has diagnosed me with asthma and given me a peak flow meter and ventolin and sent me away to do 2 weeks worth of readings to gauge how bad the condition is. However I am unsure as to whether she actually listened to my symptoms!

I am a pretty healthy 33 years old, and 2 weeks ago I began waking up at 4am gasping and wheezing. During the day all was fine. It went away for a week, then again, 3 or 4 nights of waking up with wheezing. Now my chest is tight all the time. I feel as though it is a dry wheeze and accompanying cough but I do bring up some phlegm. The kicker is that less than a month ago I ran 10km in 60min (quite proud of that :) ), I tried running a few days ago and could not even run 1km without wheezing so badly I needed to stop!

I have smoked in the past but not extremely heavily or for very long, maybe 8-10 per day for 5 years. I stopped the day I woke up wheezing (2 weeks without a cigarette - proud of that too!).

My confusion lies in the fact that my peak flow readings are not too bad - I am meant to get 650, and I get 580-630. And the "suddenness" of the symptoms - i.e running 10km one week then less than 1km 18 days later..can asthma come on so rapidly? I think perhaps I may have COPD, but am unsure if this comes on rapidly as well?

I cannot get in to see my doctor for another 3 weeks, so I have reached out here and via the helpline in hope that someone may have had a similar experience to put my panicked mine somewhat at rest!

Anyway, thanks for reading and have a nice day.


37 Replies

  • Hi Mrstil. Have you tried ringing the helpline? They are very good and know their stuff.

    Have you got a walk in centre near you? If you have I would try them,they may be able to at least put your mind at rest. My COPD/ Bronchiectasis seemed to come on very fast but after tests etc it seems that I have had it longer than I thought. Several chest infections a year is a good first sign it seems. Good luck and try not to worry most things are treatable. PTxx

  • Hello PT and thank-you for your reply.

    Yes I tried the helpline, but they are booked up until mid next week. And for some reason I cannot find a walk-in near me in North Scotland.

    May I ask if you were/are in your early 30s? I have also read that COPD is usually diagnosed after 40, but I guess these things can happen at any time.

    Thanks again.


  • Hi mrstil nice to meet you and welcome to the site. I have had asthma for many years and was diagnosed with COPD around 5 years ago. What you describe is symptomatic of asthma, the classic wheezing and waking up unable to breathe. Here is a several things that help me with my asthma.

    1) Use your ventolin before you do any exercise and if you have an attack

    2) Take 2 puffs before you go to bed at night and make sure you have it with you at night.

    3) Wash all your bedding at least 60 degree temperature to kill dust mites which can trigger an attack.

    4) Consider another pillow so you are not lying so flat (I have 2).

    I hope you haven't got COPD and your peak flow readings indicate you haven't but only a doctor can advise you.

    Oh and well done for packing in the evil weed. That is the best thing you could do to help your lungs. Keep it up. x

  • Hello coughalot, thanks for replying and your advice.

    I do indeed puff away on the ventolin before bed and use multiple pillows, I used the ventolin before my last run and lasted 1km - whereas 3 weeks ago I ran 10x that, with no need for any ventolin - I guess this is why I am so confused/concerned.

    Thanks also about quitting smoking - I wish I could feel the benefits! :)


  • You will feel the benefits Steve trust me. But it will take longer than 2 weeks. x

  • Thanks coughlot1, I do feel better physiologically for quitting, thats for sure! (19 days now! :D

  • You may have a chest infection at the moment that are making your other symptoms worse you might need another visit to the docs

  • Hello Jeanielee, thanks for your message - yes this week I am going to try and get another appointment sooner that the 3 weeks I was told last time. I did think about heading to and A&E also if things proceeded to decline!

  • Hi, commiserations and welcome to the site which is for ALL lung sufferers, not only copd.

    Try not to worry, it will all work out but it may take a while.

    I had a similar experience although ten years later than you.

    I absolutely know now that I had untreated asthma as a child which phased out around 7 years old. My son had it too (still has).

    Ever after, although extremely fit my chest would feel as in a vice on climbing hills, running swimming etc (I thought it was angina which my granny had - so ignored it)! Oddly though, like you, in my forties I built up my running from a low of 30 seconds to 30 minutes every day. I built up my swimming to 25 lengths a day too in my late forties when I moved back to London.

    I started to wheeze nightly after 2 weeks of sleeping on the sea with the overhead hatch open.

    1st visit to GP re it, she prescribed the preventive inhaler Becotide and said try this, if it stops the wheezing then you have asthma!!!

    I most certainly do have ashma. And here I must congratulate you on finding this site. You will learn so much on making sure you get the best possible treatment and know when to go to GP for suspected lung infection - what happens if mucus hangs around in your lungs, an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.

    If only I knew then what I know now. I would have realised that there was so much more I could have done to help myself.

    Ventolin is a 'rescue' inhaler. To be taken to quickly open your airways which close up due either exertion, allergies. You need to take Ventolin before exercise.

    I expect you will be prescribed the preventer which most asthmatics and COPDers use (there are best ones for each).

    You may or may not have copd, it could just be the asthma. Time will tell. If you do have copd then it probably won't be down smoking but down to other factors.

    I too smoked very little 0-6 per day as a student for 3 years when young then same again as a mature student for 3 years (same time as swimming & running a lot).

    I cannot stress enough how vital it is to learn to take you inhalers correctly. There are different methods for different inhalers - ie last summer on my pulmonary rehab course I learnt that I'd been using my Seretide 2 x daily preventer wrongly! No wonder I got ill.

    I also didn't use my Ventolin properly either. Now I recognise the breathing levels and when I should take it for non emergency situations or before exercise. For ie I took it last night before the preventer, was a bit wheezy so I knew it would prevent the night wheezing & so give a better nights sleep. Why was I extra wheezy last night? The temperature dropped? Starting a snuffle? Stress?

    Please feel free to PM me about it & any concerns (PM = private message) . I'm more than happy to prevent anyone getting as ill as I was - much better now I hasten to add!

    Hopefully we (and we're not medics) can help you to get the knowledge to prevent infections & poor health.

    The BLF are marvellous And can guide you in getting the best from GP & respiratory nurses, contact them and they can send you information too.

    Keep in touch.

    All the best . P

    PS it seems we have to be proactive where GPs are concerned.

    For ie if your sputum is green it needs to be analysed for which bacteria it contains and not ignored. I've lost count of the number of times I've had chronic bronchitis & not gone to the doc because I'm fit or because I 'didn't want to waste their time'.

  • Hello Peeg,

    Thanks very much for your reply.

    Yes I also had Exercise-Induced Asthma when I was young (8-14ish), but it went away and I have not needed ventolin for the past 20 years - now all of a sudden I'm puffing away on it everyday!

    Did you receive a peak flow meter also? Were your readings within normal (10% range of optimal)?

    I was wondering that since my peak flow readings are quite good (normal is 650 and I blow 580-630) - that asthma may not be the issue. But I don't know and guess I need to request a spirometer test when I finally can get to the doctors.

    I know what you mean about not wanting to "bother the GP", usually with any ailments I just think others may have worse issues than me so I get on with it, don't visit a GP and eventually it sorts itself out!

    Also, maybe of some note - I was diagnosed with nasal drip last year and was prescribed drugs to get rid of it. Maybe this has had a lasting impact too - not sure.

    Anyway, thanks again for replying and offering to help!


  • Hi, post nasal drip often goes hand in hand with copd as does acid reflux. The fumes or debris gets into the airways.

    My peak flow is usually 450 (I thought that was normal)! I'm possibly ignorant about peak flows. I hate them. When I feel like death & my peak flow is 350 and they say "oh, your peak flow's okay" grrrr

    I think (and this is entirely my own personal opinion) that I have, or rather had, exceptionally strong lungs which is why I stayed well for so long.

    Don't forget I'm years on from you and didn't get asthma under proper control then 5 bouts of pneumonia did it for me.

    4-5 years later, I've learned a lot about keeping well.

    Drink plenty of fluid to keep your innards hydrated & mucus moist/loose.

    Healthy diet, breathing exercises. Keep your immune system tip top to fight off any bugs.

    If I were you I'd be asking for the Alpha 1 Deficiency test (simple blood test) - if it turns out you have copd.

    I eventually had ct scans to rule out bronchiectasis and aspergillosis.

    If it's all due to asthma, you'll be fine once it's properly controlled. (Even though it's blooming annoying).

    Best, P

  • Just a side issue, peeg - I asked one doctor for the Alpha 1 test and was told that it was not up to me; it is the doctor's decision.

    There are several doctors in my surgery and, needless to say, I won't bother with her again! Grrrrrrr. X

  • Flaming jobsworth! Agree - grrrrrrr, It's just a finger prick test - or so I've read.

    I'm going to put a post up soon re GPs conflict of interests.

    I've got my bi-annual check up coming up and I'm going to ask for the a1d test.

    If I don't get it I'll be asking each GP I see for it until I get it.

  • Love it peeg - updates please! :)

  • Hi peeg,

    Thanks again for replying. Oh dear, I did have nasal drip and reflux last year - was prescribed drug to get rid of both and it seemed to work.

    On a positive note, I tried to exercises again over the weekend, and managed to get through a 30min session with a slow interval walking/jogging. For anyone wishing to try some slow fitness training I am doing this one - it seems to be ok and quite popular for people who are unfit or suffer from mild respiratory issues -


  • Thank you for that link. I'm going to give it a go this morning :)

  • Hi Steve,& welcome to the forum.You have been given some good advice from coughalot,can't add much to that.I had severe asthma,& got diagnosed with Copd some years later.

    Good on you for giving up the smokes,unfortunately people often feel worse for a little while,I think it's the lungs at work,getting rid of the rubbish etc,but you will feel better eventually,& it will stop your lungs getting worse,down the track! I wonder if it would be beneficial to see a physio,if able.

    Good luck with it all,& let us know how you get on xx

  • Pegs text showed up,just after I was posting,great advice there too! xx

  • Hello Wendells,

    Thanks for replying - may I ask how/when you initially were diagnosed with Asthma/COPD? Was it similar to my symptoms/situation?

    Thanks again!


  • Hi Steve,yes my asthma symptoms were similar to yours,I do feel it's probably asthma you have,maybe with an underlying chest infection.I do think though that the Doctor should have given you the preventive puffer as well,maybe she's waiting to see your results the next time.Anyway that's Doctor Wendells advice lol!

    Do let us know how you get on,good luck xx

  • Agree with you there Oz Wendells. I think he may have an infection too. Shouldn't wait for appointment if there's green/yellow sputum eh....

    Thing is, it's actually ok to make an appt on the emergency system .... "is it an emergency"? ......"Yes, I need someone to quickly just listen to my chest urgently I think I have a chest infection and I have ashma and/or COPD" ..... this is what I say and I always get in on the day. P xx

  • Hi and welcome - how worrying for you! You have got some great advise from other people the only thing I could add would be to try the BLF helpline and ask what their advise. Take good care, TAD xx

  • Hello TADAW, thanks for replying. Yes I tried the helpline although the operator told me they were full up today and to try again next week. I will continue to try and exercise over the weekend to get some more "peak flow data" to speak with them about!

    Thanks again for replying.


  • Hi, I'm just new here. Also from North Scotland. From everything I have researched about my own worries it sounds to me like nocturnal asthma.

  • Hi Sharon2, thanks for your message - yes that had crossed my mind originally, then the wheezing and chest tightness has become a constant thing...awake or asleep. Where in Scotland are you from?


  • Hi mrstil,

    I have had asthma 30+ years, and looking back at my childhood I can see times when coughs and shortness of breath was miss diagnosed and I was lucky not to have had a serious asthma attack.

    My PF's were 550/650 in my 30's nowadays I rarely hit 500. I normally start taking extra meds, extra puffs if I drop below 400 if no improvement or it drops below 350 or I am very breathless then its A&E or 999. They normally nebulise you and start on steroids & anti-biotics. But get checked as soon as possible. Don't wait as chest infections can turn nasty very quickly. I have had bouts of pleurisy and pneumonia.

    Not trying to worry you, but asthma is not taken serious enough, even by some GP's.

    It took frequent visits to A&E before an A&E doctor saw me too many times in a short period managed to get me seen in a proper chest clinic, this has helped a great deal.

    I joined this site 2/3 years ago and I joined Asthma UK about 7/8 years ago both sites have been very helpful.

    I eventually stopped smoking 1988 after a few attempts years before, I was a light smoker and smoked light cigarettes when they came in.

    I am currently on quite a lot of meds and try to get as much exercise I can within limits, but it helped keep me out of hospital.

    There are many sports people and athletes that suffer with asthma, it is a matter of you getting control over it before it gets control over you.

    Good luck

  • Hello Tuckbox2,

    Thanks very much for your reply! I was diagnosed with asthma (exercise induced) when I was about 8-10ish - provided with 3 different inhalers (ventolin, pulmicort?, and another "red" inhaler). I used these every day for about 4 years and suddenly the wheezing etc completely stopped, being a naive teenager I also then didn't see the need to take these medicines anymore - I now think I should have kept it up!

    Did you find your overall health improved a lot once you had quit smoking? I'm about 19 days into quitting now, and quite pleased with myself, although I am not feeling the physical health benefits just yet.



  • Hi S.

    Yes I had marked health improvements, my job was delivering TV's & Video's so I was up and down stairs a lot especially when we had deliveries at the TV shop as well as when delivering to customers.

    I am also a scout leader so I was quite active at that time and was doing a lot of hiking, climbing, caving, swimming etc. I am slowing down a bit now I am 60 but I still have a go with limitations.

    My medication has changed over the years, aminophylline helped a lot, I stopped earlier this year as I am on Omalizumab treatment, they are reducing my asthma meds now, but my blood pressure meds are on the up.

    All the best.


  • 3 weeks to see a gp is just outrageous !!!!!

    I dont have asthma but i do have COPD and i dont get your symptoms of wheezing and tight chest and cough however i do when i have a chest infection

    my COPD did seem to just appear all of a sudden and got worse very quickly

    There is nothing worse than playing the waiting game to find out whats wrong there are respiratory nurses to chat with on the helpline i would consider giving them a call as you have a few weeks wait for your appointment


  • Hello Mandy6513, Thanks for your message. My thoughts exactly!

    Yes I tried the helpline on Friday but they were booked up - I'll try again tomorrow.

    You are so right - it is the not knowing that's awful. I try to refrain from "self-diagnosing" (which in itself is a bad thing to do!) - but when you struggle to breathe and can't see a GP for 3 weeks, it is kind of hard not too I suppose! :)



  • Hiya, sounds like it could be sleep apnea! Amongst other things I have asthma and bronchiectasis, and recently got tested for this after waking all through the night gasping for breath. Turned out I was stopping breathing 20 times an hour. This puts an enormous stain on your organs so is very important to treat it. I now have a cpap machine with mask and although this has helped I have recently suffered a heart attack and it is now thought I have Myocarditis which I am having tests for. Hope you get properly diagnosed. My sleep apnea was spotted by an eagle eyed member of professor Wilson's team at the Royal Bromptom hospital. I'd never heard of it! Best wishes :)

  • Hi Kissi - Thanks for your reply. Do you know if sleep apnea could cause constant wheezing?



  • Hi. Your account of waking up at night gasping for breath sounds similar to the episodes that I have had when I wake from a deep sleep gasping for breath, feeling as though I am fighting to take that all-important gulp of air. My consultant calls this Vocal Cord Dysfunction (also laryngospasm), you can search for it on YouTube to see if it's the same thing. It's completely terrifying but rarely serious. I have airway narrowing among other things but am largely undiagnosed so far. My deterioration has also come on fast and I can barely muster 250 on peak flow. Hope you get some advice from the BLF support service next week. Take care.

  • Hi Clare67, thanks for replying. I will check out the above, the more information I have about various issues the better as I can discuss with my GP (when I can finally get to see her!!)



  • Hi mrstil, in my case yes for sure, and I always felt that my wheezing at night was coming from my airways rather than my lungs. The only way to check for sleep apnea is by having a sleep study. I went into the RBH for this. It is surprisingly easy but you just have to hope that on this particular night you don't have insomnia! Lol. I was so shocked to discover that almost every hour I'd stopped breathing 20 times!!! Obviously not a good thing for your already depleted body works to cope with :(

    I hope you discover what is causing your discomfort. However don't wait for doctors to come up with it, you need to instigate these things yourself. I no longer have any faith in doctors or the medical profession. After my heart attack last week while in hospital I was stabbed painfully with endless needles and cannulas (my veins collapse at the sight of these things) morning noon and night, I was pumped with endless 'heart attack' medication and then FIVE days later had an angiogram to check for blocked arteries of which I have none! Only then did I get diagnosed with Myocarditis (inflamation of heart muscle) which I'm still having tests for. They sent me home with increased medication, high doses of betablockers and other such things which I have now stopped taking after feeling desperately ill on. I know this is not recommended but I did research all the new meds and found that they all interfere with my other conditions. The fact that I feel much better and all the horrid new symptoms have now gone tells me I did the right thing. I will vist my doctor tomorrow though to get his opinion ( for what it's worth) I think the moral of my story is to take control, know your body and research. Good luck Mrstil :)

  • Hi all, thanks everyone for responding to my post - it's been extremely helpful in many ways. After calling my GP every day for an earlier appointment I managed to get in tomorrow (which means I only waited 16 days for an appointment instead of 21 days!) - I'll be taking what I have learnt from this forum and my chat with BLF into the GP's with me. Hopefully I'll have some news to share soon.

    Best & good health,


  • Good morning everyone!

    Well I went to the GP last week and was told my peak flow chat indicated Asthma. The Doc went further and mentioned that Asthma "recurrences" often happen in people who have Asthma when they are young children (which I did). To confirm his diagnosis I am to have a spirometry test in a fortnight.

    I was perscribed a preventative steroid inhaler (cannot remember the exact name) and told to use it morning and night. My question is: should I use my ventolin beforehand to open up my airways, then use the preventative steroid inhaler? Perhaps this may increase its effectiveness?

    If anyone has any insight or advice I would be most grateful.

    Happy Monday!


    (also, 26 days with no cigarettes! Woo-ho!)

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