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Asthma Health Center

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What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

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

What's an Asthma Attack and How Do I Know I'm Having One?

An asthma attack involves three processes:

  • Bands of muscle surrounding the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm.
  • During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed
  • The cells lining the airways produce more and thicker mucus than normal.

All of these factors -- bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production -- cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty performing normal daily activities. Other symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
  • Coughing that won't stop
  • Very rapid breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
  • Difficulty talking
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Blue lips or fingernails

The severity of an asthma attack can escalate rapidly, so it's important to treat these symptoms immediately once you recognize them.

Without immediate treatment, during a severe attack, your breathing will become more labored, and wheezing will be louder.

If you are experiencing an asthma attack, follow the "red zone" or emergency instructions in the asthma action plan immediately. An asthma attack may be life threatening, and you may need immediate medical attention.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on May 31, 2015
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