This section is from the book "The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine. Volume 2.", by J. H. Kellogg, M.D.. Also available from Amazon: The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine, Volume 2.
Patient suddenly attacked' or after premonitions of headache, sleepiness, etc., or an attack of indigestion; great difficulty of breathing; chest becomes distended, since the air cannot be easily forced out of the lungs after inhalation; loud wheezings or whistlings heard with each breath; sense of constriction about chest; pulse feeble; lips purple; eyes staring; attacks most likely to occur in the night, often being periodical.
This disease is often confounded with others in which there is difficulty in breathing, as in disease of the heart, other affections of the lungs, etc. Asthma proper is a purely nervous disease. It consists in a muscular contraction of the smallest bronchial tubes, those next the air-cells, by which the air is prevented from passing out of the cells after it has been breathed in. The patient complains of inability to "get his breath out," notwithstanding efforts so vigorous that he is bathed with perspiration. In fact, the more severe the effort, the less effectual, in the majority of cases, as the difficulty is aggravated by the attempt to overcome it. Asthmatic attacks sometimes occur periodically, without any apparent exciting cause; but in most cases there is some cause to which each particular attack is attributed by the patient. The most common causes are excessive muscular exertion, taking cold, inhalation of sulphurous fumes, or of some other irritating substance, as dust from the sweeping of carpets, etc. The emanations from feathers is not infrequently the cause of asthmatic seizures. Many persons have suffered for years in consequence of sleeping on feather beds or pillows, being wholly ignorant of the real cause. This disease is often tolerated for years, rarely causing death, but ultimately undermines the patient's health. Chronic sufferers from asthma are usually thin, sallow, and hollow-cheeked. In the great majority of cases, asthma is connected with some other serious disease; as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, dyspepsia, disease of the liver, and, in females, disease of the uterus. Males are affected much more frequently than females.