Asthma symptoms

The most common symptom of asthma is wheezing, but there are many others you should know about.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 13 people have asthma, making it the most common respiratory condition. Asthma is caused by inflammation and swelling of the airways. 

An asthma attack occurs when symptoms emerge rapidly, usually because of a specific trigger. Triggers include allergens, dust, exercise, chemicals, cold air and pet dander.

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Signs and symptoms of asthma

The most common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

Symptoms will usually vary from patient to patient and may even be different from one asthma attack to another. Some asthmatics may only notice symptoms when they are exposed to an allergen or exercising, whilst others will have recurring symptoms.

The signs of an asthma attack are similar, but can also include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Trouble with talking
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Sweaty and pale skin

Most patients experience mild cases of asthma that will require treatment only when an attack occurs. Severe asthma is rare but will require ongoing medical care.  

Exercise-induced asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing, tightness or pain in the chest, shortness of breath, fatigue, weaker performance and longer recovery periods. Exercising in cold, dry air or during pollen season can worsen symptoms. In most people with exercise-induced asthma, shorter periods of physical activity (3-5 minutes) will usually not cause an attack.


Early asthma symptoms

It can be difficult to detect the early symptoms of asthma as they may be similar to signs of other conditions such as a cold or the flu. But if symptoms persist or frequently return, it could be a sign of asthma.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing
  • Wheezing or breathlessness during exercise
  • Signs of a cold such as runny and stuffy nose or a headache
  • Sleeping troubles
  • Aches, pains and feeling tired

If you do have early-stage asthma, the common symptoms can worsen over time. It’s a good idea to avoid any known triggers.


Symptoms of asthma in children

The prevalence of asthma is particularly high in children. It is estimated that 10% of children suffer from asthma once they reach school age. But whilst many kids may be wheezing, only 40% of them will go on to develop asthma.

The most common signs of asthma in children include:

  • Wheezing that often sounds like whistling
  • Frequent coughing (especially at night)
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing
  • Recurring chest cold

If you think you or your child may have asthma, it’s important to visit a doctor to get a diagnosis.



  1. (2018). Asthma Facts | [online] Available at:
  2. Khajotia R. (2008). Exercise-induced asthma: fresh insights and an overview. Malaysian family physician : the official journal of the Academy of Family Physicians of Malaysia, 3(1), 21–24.
  3. van Aalderen W. M. (2012). Childhood asthma: diagnosis and treatment. Scientifica, 2012, 674204.
  4. Licari, A., Brambilla, I., Marseglia, A., De Filippo, M., Paganelli, V., & Marseglia, G. L. (2018). Difficult vs. Severe Asthma: Definition and Limits of Asthma Control in the Pediatric Population. Frontiers in pediatrics, 6, 170.

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