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What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

People with asthma experience symptoms when the airways tighten, become inflamed, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one asthma attack and severe during another.

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Some people with asthma may go for extended periods without having any symptoms but experiencing periodic worsening of their symptoms called asthma attacks; others have some symptoms every day. In addition, some people with asthma may only have symptoms during exercise or when they are exposed to allergy-causing substances or viral infections like colds. Some people might have multiple triggers for their asthma attacks.

Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours after using a rescue medication and addressing the trigger. Severe attacks are less common but last longer and often require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes, keep asthma under better control, and prevent a mild attack from developing into a severe one.

Are There Early Signs of an Asthma Attack?

Early warning signs are changes that happen just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack. These changes start before the well-known symptoms of asthma and are the earliest signs that your asthma is worsening.

In general, these signs are not severe enough to stop you from going about your daily activities. But by recognizing these signs, you can stop an asthma attack or prevent one from getting worse. Early warning signs include:

  • Frequent cough, especially at night
  • Losing your breath easily or shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired or weak when exercising
  • Wheezing or coughing after exercise
  • Feeling tired, easily upset, grouchy, or moody
  • Decreases or changes in lung function as measured on a peak flow meter
  • Signs of a cold, or allergies (sneezing, runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, and headache)
  • Trouble sleeping

If you have early warning signs or symptoms, you should take asthma medication for flare-up or poor control as described in your asthma action plan. Remember, mild attacks can quickly progress to a severe attack.

What Symptoms Mean my Asthma Is Getting Worse?

If early warning signs and symptoms are not recognized and treated, your asthma episode can progress and symptoms may worsen. As symptoms get worse, you may have more difficulty performing daily activities and sleeping. Symptoms of worsening asthma include:

  • A cough that won't go away (day and night)
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor response to asthma medicines such as bronchodilators

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