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  • What are the symptoms of asthma?

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Even though asthma affects nearly 3 million people worldwide Trusted source World Health Organization (WHO) Government Source International Public Health Information Go to source , the symptoms involved can be scary. That’s why it’s important to recognise them and get the correct treatment right away.

If left untreated, asthma can worsen and lead to asthma attacks, which in the worst cases can be fatal.

However, with medication, people who have asthma can live normal lives.

Below is a list of asthma symptoms and information on how to recognise the condition. Keep reading to find out more.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Plauto Filho Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 15-01-2024

What are the first signs of asthma?

The first signs of asthma can show up at any point. Symptoms often develop during childhood but can appear later on in your adult life.

Recognising the first signs of asthma is the best way to be in control of it. Some common and mild asthma symptoms include:

  1. coughing (especially at night)
  2. wheezing
  3. coughing or wheezing after physical activity (exercise-induced)
  4. trouble sleeping
  5. frequent allergies and colds
  6. shortness of breath
  7. a tight or painful chest

Not everyone with asthma will have all of the above symptoms. It is a health condition that affects everyone differently.

A woman struggling to catch her breath

However, coughing, wheezing, and a tight chest are some of the most common symptoms due to the narrowing of the small airways in the lungs.

This pressure in the chest can cause difficulty breathing and leave you feeling anxious.

What are the symptoms of asthma in children?

Asthma symptoms can present slightly differently in children compared with adults. Most children get their first symptoms of asthma at around 5 years old.

Not all children with asthma will have wheezing. Instead, doctors usually first recognise that a child has asthma when the child has a cough that does not go away.

A child present with asthma next to a worried parent

If your child has a cough that isn’t going away, please consult your doctor or online healthcare provider.

Luckily, for many children who develop asthma, their condition improves or goes away during their teenage years and adulthood.

Seasonal asthma symptoms

Your asthma symptoms might worsen during different times of the year. You might find your asthma is worse when:

  1. it gets very cold during winter
  2. pollen levels are high during spring and summer

What triggers asthma?

If you have asthma, certain things can make your symptoms worse. These are known as triggers.

Anything that makes your airways irritated or your symptoms worse is called a trigger. Some common triggers include:






Air pollution


Dust mites





  1. Tobacco smoke: Smoking cigarettes or breathing in secondhand smoke can irritate your airways, making your asthma symptoms worse. If you have asthma, you should stop smoking.
  2. Mould: It is dangerous to have any mould or damp patches in your house, especially if you have asthma. Mould produces spores - when inhaled, these can trigger asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.
  3. Outdoor air pollution: Pollutants in the air (e.g. car fumes) can also irritate the airways when breathed in, triggering your asthma symptoms and causing your chest to feel tight.
  4. Disinfectants: Sometimes when you use cleaning products or disinfectants, it can make your asthma worse. This is because when you breathe in the chemicals, it irritates your airways.
  5. A queue of cars polluting the air

  6. Dust mites: Very small (only visible under a microscope) bugs called dust mites can trigger asthma symptoms if you are allergic to them.
  7. Pests: Cockroaches and mice can also worsen your asthma symptoms if you are allergic to them.
  8. Pets: Animals often shed fur, which leaves allergens around your home. If you have an allergy to them, your asthma might also get triggered.

By avoiding triggers, you can help to manage your condition and avoid severe asthma symptoms.

Asthma vs COPD symptoms

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a health condition that affects the lungs. It makes it hard to breathe. People who smoke for a long time often get COPD.

While it is a different condition from asthma, COPD can have similar symptoms.

Asthma COPD
Shortness of breath
Tiredness after exercising
Affects all ages
Affects mostly 40+ year olds
Constant cough
Excessive mucus
Can symptoms worsen over time?

The main difference between the two conditions is that COPD is caused by long-term irritation to the lungs and only develops later in life. Whereas asthma is more likely to be hereditary (passed on from your family members).

COPD symptoms can also get worse over time, especially if you continue smoking cigarettes.

Complications of asthma

If you do not treat or take care of your asthma, you might experience other health concerns. These include:

  1. constant tiredness
  2. being absent from work or school
  3. stress and anxiety
  4. lung infections
  5. disruption due to unplanned visits to the doctor
  6. delayed puberty in children

If you do not treat your asthma, it could get worse and you might have an asthma attack. This is an emergency situation that could be very dangerous or even deadly.

Asthma attack symptoms

An asthma attack happens when your asthma symptoms get temporarily worse. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed, making it very difficult to breathe.

Asthma attacks can become severe very quickly. Make sure to know the symptoms of an oncoming attack so you can get medical help fast:


Severe wheezing when breathing


Very rapid breathing


Chest pain or tightness


Coughing that won’t stop


Blue lips or fingernails


Difficulty talking


Pale, sweaty face


Feeling anxiety or panic

Unusual asthma symptoms

Some more unusual danger signs of an asthma attack include:

  1. having trouble walking
  2. having trouble talking or speaking in full sentences
  3. your skin between your ribs going inwards when breathing
  4. your nostrils flare when breathing

In general, asthma attacks come on gradually. Symptoms worsen over hours or even days. If you think your symptoms are pointing to an asthma attack, get medical help immediately.

When to see a doctor

If you think you might have asthma symptoms, it is important to get them checked out. Pay a visit to your doctor if you:

  1. have a constant cough, or a cough linked with exercise
  2. make a whistling sound when breathing out
  3. are complaining of a tight chest
  4. have shortness of breath or rapid breathing

Knowing the early signs and getting treatment will prevent your symptoms from becoming dangerous.

If you have asthma and think you may be experiencing early signs of an asthma attack, do not hesitate to call an ambulance or seek immediate medical help.

How can I control or prevent my asthma symptoms?

The best way to manage your asthma symptoms is to take the right treatment and avoid coming into contact with any of your asthma triggers.

Asthma inhalers are the most common form of treatment. You can use both preventer and reliever inhalers to help manage your condition.

Get asthma treatment online

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