What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of an asthma attack can include:
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • very fast breathing
  • increased difficulty trying to breathe
  • feeling short of breath at night
Often, people who get asthma attacks have known triggers such as pollen, respiratory infections or exercise. If you have or your child has asthma, ask your doctor about an asthma action plan so you know know what to do in the event of an attack.
Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness or pain in the chest
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Traditionally, we think of asthma as causing wheezing and shortness of breath. However asthma causes other symptoms, such as cough, chest pain, and chest tightness. A cough that doesn't go away may be a sign of asthma. 
The hallmark of asthma is usually an uncontrollable cough. Along with the cough, the patient may feel shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. The wheezing may be mild and felt only by the patient or heard by the physician. But, the wheezing can be severe enough to be audible by anyone near the patient. 
UCLA Health
Administration

People with asthma may experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing/wheezing
  • Fast (rapid) breathing/rapid pulse
  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Sweating
  • Trouble speaking in full sentences
  • Fatigue or irritability
American Red Cross
Administration
You often can tell when a person is having an asthma attack by the hoarse whistling sound made while exhaling. This sound, known as wheezing, occurs because air becomes trapped in the lungs. Coughing after exercise, crying, or laughing are other signs that an asthma attack could begin. 

Signs of an asthma attack include:
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Inability to talk without stopping for a breath
  • Feelings of fear or confusion
Intermountain Healthcare
Administration
You may not have asthma symptoms all of the time. Instead, you may have them only sometimes, or at a certain time of the day. When you have symptoms, it's called an asthma flare-up or asthma attack. Here's what you might see or feel:
  • A cough, especially a cough at night
  • Wheezing, a small whistling sound when you breathe out
  • A tight feeling in your chest
  • Trouble taking a deep breath
  • Skin between the ribs and below the throat pulling in with each breath
At different times, your symptoms can be mild or serious. During a serious asthma attack, you may need to see a doctor right away.
Paul M. Ehrlich, MD
Allergy & Immunology
Asthma is a moving target. Wheezing and shortness of breath -- what doctors call "paroxysmal reversible airway obstruction" -- have always been the symptoms that we equate with an asthma attack, but now we know that an attack is much more than this. These symptoms come and go and are usually reversible with medications.

But the problems don't stop there, of course. After the attack subsides, and apparently normal breathing is restored, the asthma is still there. Inflammation, caused by the movement of specialized white blood cells into the lining of the airways, produces swelling.

Asthma can be compared to a pot of water boiling on a stove. Inflammation is the burner underneath the pot. When the asthma gets severe, the pot boils over into an attack. For many years, treatment has focused on reopening the airways and ending the symptoms -- in effect turning down the temperature and making sure the water doesn't spill over the sides of the pot.

However, alleviating these symptoms doesn't mean that the heat has been turned off. The residual inflammation may just be simmering under the pot.
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The following are symptoms of asthma:
  • High-pitched cough and wheezing
  • Chest wall sucks in with each breath (called retractions)
  • Grunting at end of each inhalation (this is the body's way of keeping air in the smallest airways so they don't collapse)
  • Nasal flaring
  • Chest pain and/or tightness
  • Fast breathing
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Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Sometimes these symptoms come about when you are exposed to asthma triggers, such as dust, pet dander, cold air, viruses, and other factors. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Individual asthma symptoms can vary widely. You may feel mild wheezing or hear a "whistling" sound when you breathe out. Others may feel a shortness of breath or tightness and pain in the chest area. Heavy coughing is a common symptom, especially at night. It is often severe enough to disturb your sleep.

Symptoms can range in severity and frequency from mildly bothersome to life-threatening. If you notice that your symptoms are becoming more serious or that you are relying heavily on bronchodilators, you will want to contact your doctor. A medical professional can help you identify triggers for your asthma and manage it more successfully.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Chronic asthma is associated with recurrent attacks of shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, and excessive production of mucus. Typically, the asthma patient will show laboratory signs of allergy, including increased levels of eosinophils in the blood, increased serum IgE levels, and positive food and/or inhalant allergy tests.

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Continue Learning about Asthma Symptoms

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.