What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Coughing: Coughing from asthma is often worse at night or early morning. Sometimes it’s your only symptom. It can be dry or mucus filled.
  • Wheezing: This is a whistling or squeaky sound especially when you breathe out. Sometimes wheezing can be heard easily; other times you need a stethoscope. A stethoscope is a medical device used to listen to breath sounds.
  • Chest tightness: This can feel like something is squeezing or sitting on your chest.
  • Shortness of breath: You may feel breathless, like you can’t catch your breath or breathe deeply enough. You may feel as though you are out of shape and constantly tired.

What triggers asthma symptoms?

It is important to understand what triggers your asthma symptoms.  Asthma is not a one-size-fits-all disease – what sets off symptoms for you or someone in your family may be quite different from what affects others. When you understand what’s happening inside your lungs and how they respond to allergens and irritants like pollen, dust mites or smoke, you can take steps to prevent or minimize symptoms.

    Common asthma triggers include:

    • Indoor allergens: mold, pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches
    • Outdoor allergens: pollen, mold
    • Irritants: secondhand smoke, diesel exhaust, air pollution
    • Respiratory viruses: colds, flu, sinus infections
    • Exercise
    • Stress
    • Cold air or sudden changes in temperature
    • Strong smells
    • Strong emotions such as laughing or crying
    • Hormonal changes

    What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

    If your asthma symptoms are worsening you could be having an asthma attack, also known as an asthma flare.  Any of these signs indicate the need for immediate medical treatment; follow your Asthma Action Plan

    Call 911 if you’re not sure.

    • Symptoms don’t respond as indicated in your Asthma Action Plan.
    • It feels like you can’t catch a good deep breath or can’t get the air out of your chest.
    • You can’t talk except in short phrases.
    • You have a cough that will not stop, or you simply feel too exhausted to breathe.
    • Your shoulders tense and raise closer to your ears than normal.
    • It’s easier to breathe while sitting and leaning forward than when lying down.
    • Your fingernails turn blue, or your lips become bluish or gray in color.
    • You start sweating even though your skin feels clammy and cold.
    • The skin around your chest, ribs and collarbones sinks in with each breath and you’re using stomach muscles to help you breathe.
    • You experience swelling of your throat, tongue or limbs.
    Understanding Asthma magazine mockup with Asthma Action Plan form on the open page

    Download Our Free “Understanding Asthma” Guide

    What’s the first thing to do when asthma symptoms begin?

    The moment you first notice symptoms use your prescribed quick-relief inhaler containing albuterol or levalbuterol medicine. This medication will relax the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe within a few short minutes. Use your quick-relief inhaler at the first sign of symptoms or before exercise to prevent symptoms from getting out of control.

    How do I monitor my daily asthma symptoms?

    National asthma guidelines suggest using a daily symptom diary such as Allergy & Asthma Network’s AsthmaTracker™ to keep track of symptoms, peak expiratory flow rates (if you or your child use a peak flow meter) and medications used.

    What is an AsthmaTracker?

    The AsthmaTracker™ can help your track how well your symptoms respond to your treatment plan. By writing down your symptoms, peak expiratory flow rate and medication use each day, you’ll notice a pattern to your symptoms and develop strategies to stop the symptoms before they can stop you.

    What is a peak flow meter?

    A peak flow meter is a handheld device that measures the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), or how much air you can forcibly push out of your lungs at a particular time.

    Asthma Storylines – an app for managing asthma

    The free Asthma Storylines app is a self-care tool for managing asthma. Track symptoms, learn more about daily patterns and record topics to discuss with your healthcare team.

    App Store Icon
    App Store Icon
    Image of doctor holding up phone towards camera. The phone has the Asthma Storyline app on it.
    Image of questions to ask your doctor publication

    Download “Questions for Your Doctor”

    Are there other conditions that may look like asthma or complicate asthma?

    There are other types of respiratory conditions that are different than asthma.  The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment can vary depending upon the condition. Here are some of them.




    respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)


    alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency




    sleep apnea




    influenza, infections and viruses


    Vocal cord dysfunction