What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition. Most people are symptom-free between attacks. How quickly an attack starts and how severe the reaction is usually depends on the trigger. Bronchitis might trigger a mild asthma attack over days, but inhaling the fumes of accidentally spilled bleach may cause an immediate, severe response. Within seconds the muscles surrounding the airways can tense up, limiting air flow to a fraction of the normal amount. This is called the early phase of an asthma attack. The late phase occurs hours later with swelling and extra mucus (a slimy fluid that lines breathing passages) clogging the air passages.

Asthma flares can be very mild in severity with minimal symptoms such as a cough that won't go away or getting more short of breath than usual with exercise. More severe symptoms include wheezing (a hoarse, musical whistling sound when breathing in or out) or shortness of breath at rest. Patients with very severe symptoms may not wheeze at all, but feel very short of breath and may have pain with breathing. Other symptoms requiring emergency treatment include difficulty talking due to shortness of breath or gray or blue discoloration of the lips or fingers.

To learn more:

Childhood asthma: Signs and symptoms
This information can help you decide if the symptoms you or your child are experiencing are signs of asthma.
When should I see an allergist?
(Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Online)
This information service maintained by allergists can help you decide when you need to see an allergy specialist.

next » How do I know if I am at risk for asthma?

Written by: Lillian Trettin, Ph.D.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Thursday March 08, 2018 8:55 PM