Asthma Symptoms
Asthma symptoms stem from the airway inflammation likely caused by allergens or exercise. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness ...

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Asthma symptoms are caused when the airways become inflamed and constricted. Symptoms vary from one person to the next and could worsen by a respiratory condition, such as the flu or a cold. Asthma symptoms can also vary from one attack to another in the same person. You could go long periods of time without any symptoms, punctuated by 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, you should see your doctor for an asthma screening and tests.

Common Asthma Symptoms

Coughing

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

Wheezing is a whistling sound that usually occurs when you exhale. It is the result of air being forced through narrower, constricted air passages. Wheezing is one of the most recognizable asthma symptoms, but just because you wheeze doesn't mean you have asthma; it is also a symptom of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.

Difficulty Breathing

As the airways become inflamed and constricted, you might find it difficult to breathe or catch your breath. 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 difficult.

Chest Tightness

As muscles surrounding the airways constrict, you may experience a feeling of tightness in the chest, 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.

Other 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.

Fatigue

During an asthma attack, you aren't getting enough oxygen into your lungs, which means less oxygen is getting into your blood and to your muscles. Without oxygen, your body slows down and fatigue sets in. Also, if your asthma symptoms worsen at night (nocturnal asthma) and you have trouble sleeping, you will likely feel fatigued during the day.

Nasal flaring

Nasal flaring is the enlargement of the nostrils during breathing. It is often a sign of breathing difficulty. This asthma symptom is most common in younger children and infants.

Sighing

Sighing is a natural physiological response that involves the lungs expanding to full capacity. Essentially, sighing is a deep breath with a long exhale.

Anxiety

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 living an active lifestyle, but most of the time they are more of an annoyance than a threat to your life. However, asthma symptoms, if severe enough, can certainly cause a life-threatening emergency and should be taken seriously. An adult or child experiencing an asthma attack should go to the emergency room if quick-relief medication is not working after 10-15 minutes or if he or she is experiencing the following asthma symptoms:

  • Discolored (blue or gray) lips, face, or nails
  • Extreme difficulty breathing, causing neck and chest to be "sucked in" with each breath
  • Difficulty talking or walking
  • Mental confusion
  • Extreme anxiety caused by breathing difficulty
  • Fever of 100 degrees or higher
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid pulse

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: Andrea Baird, MD
Published: Jul 29, 2010
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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