Asthma Attack Symptoms and Warning Signs

You may go for weeks or months without having a flare. But suddenly, your chest feels tight. You're coughing and wheezing a bit.

During an attack, the muscles in your airway tighten. Their lining gets swollen. They make more and thicker mucus. All of this makes it hard to breathe.

Early Warning Signs

Just before or at the very start of an attack, you may notice changes that can tip you off. They include:

Follow the steps in your asthma action plan. You may be able to stop the episode or keep it from getting bad.

During an Attack

When symptoms flare, it might be hard for you to do normal, everyday things. You may have:

  • Short, shallow, fast breaths
  • A whistling sound when you breathe, especially out
  • A cough that won't go away
  • Squeezed feeling in your chest

Use your rescue inhaler. Try to stay calm.

When It Gets Worse

Signs of worsening asthma include:

  • Feeling panicky
  • Wheezing when you breathe both in and out
  • Inability to stop coughing
  • Having trouble talking or walking
  • Getting a tight neck and chest muscles
  • Having a pale, sweaty face

Follow the "Red Zone" or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan. Call 911 or get to the hospital. You need medical attention right away.

After an Asthma Attack

You'll probably feel tired and worn out. For the next few days, you're more likely to have another flare, too. Pay attention for warning signs. Take care of yourself.

  • Follow your asthma action plan closely. Make sure you take your medications.
  • Use your peak flow meter.
  • Avoid your triggers.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 23, 2019


UptoDate Patient Information: "Trigger avoidance in asthma" and "Pathogenesis and management of status asthmaticus in adults."
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "Tips to Remember: asthma triggers and management" and "Allergic Conditions: Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA)."
Merck Manual Home Edition: "Asthma."

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