Asthma symptoms appear when the
airways are inflamed and constricted.
Symptoms can vary greatly. They
could be barely noticeable or they can be severe and life threatening. Many
people with asthma don’t even know they have it.
Symptoms can not only present
differently person to person, but they can also vary from one attack to another
in the same person. You could go long periods of time without any symptoms, and
have periodic asthma attacks. Or you might have asthma symptoms every day, only
at night, or only after exercise.
If you are experiencing what
you think might be asthma symptoms, see your doctor for asthma screening and
Common Asthma Symptoms
A persistent cough is one of
the most common asthma symptoms. The cough may be dry or wet (containing mucus)
and might worsen at night or after exercise. A chronic dry cough with no other
asthma symptoms may be a sign that you have cough-variant asthma.
Wheezing is a whistling sound
that usually occurs when you exhale. It’s the result of air being forced
through narrow, constricted air passages. Wheezing is one of the most
recognizable asthma symptoms, but just because you wheeze doesn’t mean you have
asthma. It’s also a symptom of other health problems, including chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.
You might find it difficult to
breathe or catch your breath as the airways become inflamed and constricted. To
make matters worse, mucus can fill the narrowed passages. This asthma symptom
could lead to feelings of anxiety, which can make breathing even more
As the muscles surrounding your
airways constrict, you may experience a feeling of tightness in the chest. It
could feel as if someone were tightening a rope around your upper torso. This
asthma symptom could make it difficult to breathe or catch your breath and lead
to feelings of anxiety.
Less Common Asthma Symptoms
Some asthma symptoms are less
common. They can be triggered by the common asthma symptoms listed above or can
exist independently of those symptoms.
During an asthma attack, you
aren’t getting enough oxygen into your lungs. This means less oxygen is getting
into your blood and to your muscles. Without oxygen, your body slows down and
fatigue sets in. If your asthma symptoms worsen at night (nocturnal asthma) and
you have trouble sleeping, you will likely feel fatigued during the day.
Nasal flaring is the
enlargement of the nostrils during breathing. It’s often a sign of breathing
difficulty. This asthma symptom is most common in younger children and infants.
Sighing is a natural
physiological response that involves the lungs expanding to full capacity.
Essentially sighing is a deep breath and a long exhale.
Anxiety can be both a symptom
of and a trigger for an asthma attack. As your airways start to narrow, your
chest tightens, and breathing becomes difficult, which can understandably
generate anxiety. And the unpredictability of an asthma attack can also be a
source of anxiety. On the other hand, being in a stressful situation can
trigger asthma symptoms in some people.
Emergency Symptoms of Asthma
Asthma symptoms can disrupt
your daily life and keep you from enjoying an active lifestyle. Luckily, most
of the time symptoms are more of an annoyance than a threat to your life.
Remember though that if an
asthma attack is severe, it can be a life-threatening emergency. An adult or
child with an asthma attack should go to the emergency room if quick-relief
medication fails to work after 10 to 15 minutes or if any of the following
(blue or gray) lips, face, or nails
difficulty breathing; neck and chest are “sucked in” with each breath
talking or walking
anxiety caused by breathing difficulty
- fever of
100 degrees or higher