Most children and adults with asthma find they have times when their breathing becomes more difficult.

Some people with more severe asthma may have breathing problems most of the time.

Main symptoms

The most common symptoms of asthma are:

  • wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
  • breathlessness
  • a tight chest – which may feel like a band is tightening around it 
  • coughing

These symptoms can have a number of causes, but they're more likely to be asthma if they:

  • happen often and keep coming back
  • are worse at night and early in the morning
  • seem to occur in response to an asthma trigger – for example, exercise or exposure to an allergen (such as pollen or animal fur)

See your GP if you think you or your child may have asthma, or if you have asthma and you're finding it hard to control your symptoms.

Asthma attacks

Asthma symptoms can sometimes get worse for a short time – known as an asthma attack. This can happen suddenly, or gradually over a few days.

Signs of a severe asthma attack include:

If you've been diagnosed with asthma, your reliever inhaler (usually blue) may not help and your peak flow reading may be much lower than normal.

Read about what to do during an asthma attack.

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2016
Next review due: 12/09/2019