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Unusual Asthma Symptoms

While most people consider "wheezing" the key sign of asthma, there are also other, more unusual asthma symptoms. For instance, a dry, hacking cough that persists may actually be a symptom of asthma. Chest tightness and difficulty breathing in the early morning hours can also be asthma symptoms. Likewise, constant sighing may be associated with asthma.

Unusual asthma symptoms may include:

  • rapid breathing
  • sighing
  • fatigue; inability to exercise properly
  • difficulty sleeping
  • anxiety; difficulty concentrating
  • chronic cough without wheezing (cough-variant asthma)

To complicate matters, asthma symptoms are not consistent and often vary from time to time in an individual. As an example, you might experience asthma primarily at night -- known as nocturnal asthma -- rather than during the day. Furthermore, episodes of asthma can be triggered by many different factors such as allergens, dust, smoke, cold air, exercise, infections, medications, and acid reflux. Finally, other health conditions such as heart failure, bronchitis, and dysfunction of the vocal cords can cause symptoms that mimic those of asthma, yet these conditions are not asthma. For these reasons, accurately diagnosing and effectively treating asthma can be a challenge for you and your asthma health care provider.

Can Cough Be the Only Symptom of Asthma?

Chronic cough or a cough that lasts longer than three weeks may be caused by the following:

  • asthma
  • postnasal drip
  • pneumonia
  • bronchitis
  • cigarette smoking
  • acid reflux
  • heart disease
  • medications such as ACE inhibitors used for treating high blood pressure
  • lung cancer

A chronic cough may be an unusual symptom of asthma. The cough may first appear after a cold or an upper respiratory tract infection. The cough may also start as a "tickle" in the throat. In some people with asthma, laughing or exercise triggers coughing. Other people cough at night while others cough at any time of day without a trigger.

Coughing due to asthma usually does not respond to cough suppressants, antibiotics, or cough drops but will respond to asthma medications. If you have a cough that does not get better on its own within 3 to 6 weeks, see your health care provider. 

For more information, see WebMD's article on Cough-Variant Asthma.

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