What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames the airways. This means that people with asthma generally have inflammation that is long lasting and needs managing. An asthma episode, also called an asthma flare-up or asthma attack, can happen at any time. Mild symptoms may only last a few minutes while more severe asthma symptoms can last hours or days.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing (a whistling, squeaky sound when you breathe)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest tightness

What Are the Signs of a Severe Asthma Attack?

Asthma may lead to a medical emergency.

Seek medical help immediately for:

  • Fast breathing with chest retractions (skin sucks in between or around the chest plate and/or rib bones when inhaling)
  • Cyanosis (very pale or blue coloring in the face, lips, fingernails)
  • Rapid movement of nostrils
  • Ribs or stomach moving in and out deeply and rapidly
  • Expanded chest that does not deflate when you exhale
  • Infants with asthma who fail to respond to or recognize parents

What Happens During an Asthma Episode?

During normal breathing, the airways to the lungs are fully open. This allows air to move in and out of the lungs freely. Asthma causes the airways to change in the following ways:

  1. The airway branches leading to the lungs become overly reactive and more sensitive to all kinds of asthma triggers
  2. The linings of the airways swell and become inflamed
  3. Mucus clogs the airways
  4. Muscles tighten around the airways (bronchospasm)
  5. The lungs have difficulty moving air in and out (airflow obstruction: moving air out can be especially difficult)

These changes narrow the airways. Breathing becomes difficult and stressful, like trying to breathe through a straw stuffed with cotton.

Why Does My Asthma Act Up at Night?

Uncontrolled asthma — with its underlying inflammation — often acts up at night. It probably has to do with natural body rhythms and changes in your body’s hormones. The important thing to know about nighttime asthma is that, with proper management, you should be able to sleep through the night.

Asthma Treatment and Prevention

There is no cure for asthma. Control symptoms by taking asthma medicines and avoiding your triggers. With proper treatment and an asthma management plan, you can reduce your symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your asthma symptoms and be sure to discuss any changes in your asthma management or status.

Medical Review September 2015.