1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Asthma Symptoms: What You Need To Know

What Symptoms Say About Your Asthma


Updated May 28, 2014

Asthma Symptoms: What You Need To Know

It is important to understand the asthma symptoms that might affect you: If you know the mild asthma symptoms, you might be able to prevent an asthma attack. Not recognizing more severe asthma symptoms might delay care and put you at risk for hospitalization or even a life-threatening asthma attack.

Know the Early Signs That Your Asthma Is Not Well Controlled

Before experiencing the classic signs of asthma, you may notice a number of changes that could clue you in that your asthma is worsening. These early warning signs include:

  • Increased nighttime cough
  • Cough or wheezing with physical activity
  • Tiredness with activities that you normally could complete easily
  • Decreases in your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR)
  • Restless sleep or waking up tired
  • Worsening allergy symptoms like persistent runny nose, dark circles under your eyes or itchy, inflamed skin

Recognizing that these symptoms may be related to worsening asthma, you may be able to prevent more severe symptoms. Make sure you review the asthma care plan you have developed with your healthcare provider so that you know what actions need to be taken.

Classic Signs and Symptoms of Worsening Asthma

As asthma worsens, the airways narrow, become inflamed, and fill with mucus. Patients may experience the following symptoms:

If the early symptoms are not recognized and treated, you may begin to notice more classic asthma symptoms. As your symptoms worsen and the airways narrow, you will notice increased difficulty completing your normal activities. You may also:

  • Hear yourself wheezing
  • Experience a cough that just won't go away (day or night)
  • Have more trouble falling asleep and getting a good nights rest
  • Have PEFRs well into the yellow zone
  • Get less relief from your 'quick relief' medications

You need to take action based on your asthma care plan. If your actions do not improve your symptoms, you need to see or at least talk with your doctor about the next appropriate steps.

Signs of a Possible Emergency

If your asthma symptoms become more severe, you will most probably not be able to perform your regular activities. At this stage, you will need to follow the actions described in the red zone of your asthma action plan and seek prompt medical attention as these symptoms can represent potentially life-threatening asthma.

Emergent symptoms of asthma include:

  • Severe wheezing while breathing both in and out
  • Breathing very fast
  • Getting short of breath while or having difficulty talking
  • A feeling of impending doom or panic
  • Profuse sweating
  • Inability to perform PEFR
  • Color changes in fingertips

Nearly just as important as knowing the symptoms of asthma, knowing what triggers the symptoms is key to avoiding problems with your asthma.

Asthma Symptoms- Frequently Asked Questions


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Consumer Information Sheet. Accessed: January 1, 2008. Is Your Asthma Allergic?

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: January 1, 2008. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma

Asthma. In Chest Medicine: Essentials Of Pulmonary And Critical Care Medicine. Editors: Ronald B. George, Richard W. Light, Richard A. Matthay, Michael A. Matthay. May 2005, 5th edition.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Consumer Information. Accessed: January 1, 2008. Asthma: General Information

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Asthma
  4. Adult Asthma
  5. What Symptoms Say About Your Asthma

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.