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Asthma Center

Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

author image Ann Wu, M.D., M.P.H.
Ann Wu, M.D., M.P.H., is a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital in Boston, an asthma researcher and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. She is also an investigator with the Pharmacogenetics of Asthma Treatment project, which is part of the Pharmacogenomics Research Network, and the lead investigator of the Population-Based Effectiveness in Asthma and Lung Diseases network. She blogs at asth.ma from her point of view as an asthma doctor, researcher and mom. She tweets from @Asthma3Ways.
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma Photo Credit Getty Images


Asthma symptoms tend to be episodic, and symptom patterns can vary. Common signs and symptoms of asthma include:

• Wheezing: Whistling or squeaky sounds as you breathe in and out

• Coughing: Often worse at night or early in the morning

• Chest tightness: Squeezing of the chest that causes pain

• Shortness of breath: The experience of having difficulty getting enough air into your lungs

Will Individuals With Asthma Have All of These Symptoms?

If you have asthma, you may not feel all of these symptoms. The types of asthma symptoms you experience may vary over time and vary in intensity. Sometimes asthma symptoms are merely annoying, while other times they may limit your daily routine and require you to see a doctor. It is always important to treat your symptoms to prevent severe attacks. Symptoms from asthma are often worse at night or upon waking. Symptoms can be triggered by exercise, laughter, cold air or allergens. Symptoms may also occur or worsen with viral infections.

What Are The Goals of Asthma Management?

• Avoiding troublesome symptoms, particularly upon waking in the morning and going to bed at night

• Needing little or no reliever medication

• Having a productive and physically active life

• Having normal (or nearly normal) lung function

• Avoiding serious asthma flare-ups (exacerbations or attacks)

How Do I Prevent Asthma Symptoms?

In addition to taking asthma medications as recommended by your health care provider, avoid things that worsen your asthma, known as asthma triggers. For example, if exposure to pollens makes your asthma worse, try to limit your time outdoors when pollen counts are high. However, one trigger you should not avoid is physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and can actually make your asthma better over time.

How Do I Use My Medications Appropriately?

It is important to use your inhalers appropriately in order for the medication to get into your lungs. If you have concerns about how to use your inhaler, ask your health care provider to watch you use your inhaler and give you feedback. Also, it can be difficult to remember to take your medications for asthma, especially the controller medications that need to be taken daily. So develop a way to remember your daily medicines, such as by putting a reminder next to your toothbrush.

Your health care provider may also give you an asthma action plan, which provides a way for you to track your asthma triggers, your medications and whether or not your symptoms are getting better or worse. It is important to keep your asthma action plan somewhere you will see it every day. For the best asthma management, it is important for you to develop a partnership with your health care provider and to follow your individual asthma action plan.

What If I'm Being Treated For Asthma But I Still Have Symptoms?

Your health care provider will prescribe your medicine regimen based on the severity of your asthma. During follow-up visits, your health care provider may adjust the medicine regimen by increasing or decreasing doses. If you have many symptoms despite your asthma medication regimen, it is important to make a follow-up visit. Asthma is a variable disease that changes over time, and you may have different symptoms in your home, school or workplace, therefore it is important to keep track of where your symptoms are the worst.

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