Symptoms of asthma
The symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe. Most people will only experience occasional symptoms, although a few people will have problems most of the time.
The main symptoms of asthma are:
- wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
- shortness of breath
- a tight chest – which may feel like a band is tightening around it
These symptoms are often worse at night and early in the morning, particularly if the condition is not well controlled. They may also develop or become worse in response to a certain trigger, such as exercise or exposure to an allergen.
Read our page on the causes of asthma for more information about potential triggers.
Speak to your GP if you think you or your child may have asthma. You should also talk to your doctor or asthma nurse if you have been diagnosed with asthma and you are finding it difficult to control the symptoms.
When asthma symptoms get significantly worse, it is known as an asthma attack or "acute asthma exacerbation".
Asthma attacks often develop slowly, sometimes taking a couple of days or more to become serious, although some people with asthma are prone to sudden, unexpected severe attacks. It is important to recognise attacks early and take appropriate action.
During an asthma attack, the symptoms described above may get worse and – if you're already on treatment – your inhaler medication may not work as well as it normally does.
You might be monitoring your asthma using a device called a peak flow meter, and there may be a drop in your peak expiratory flow. Read about diagnosing asthma for more information.
If you think you or your child are having an asthma attack, don't ignore it. Contact your GP or asthma clinic as soon as possible, or consult and use your asthma action plan if you have one.
Signs of a particularly severe asthma attack can include:
- your reliever inhaler (which is usually blue) is not helping symptoms as much as usual, or at all
- wheezing, coughing and chest tightness becoming severe and constant
- being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep
- breathing faster
- a rapid heartbeat
- feeling drowsy, exhausted or dizzy
- your lips or fingers turning blue (cyanosis)
Call 999 to seek immediate help if you or someone else has symptoms of a severe asthma attack.
Page last reviewed: 31/07/2014
Next review due: 31/07/2016