Someone with asthma may experience a range of symptoms, from mild to more serious. Find out the most common asthma symptoms and how they can be managed.
On this page:
- What are the most common asthma symptoms?
- Explaining your symptoms to your GP
- Managing asthma symptoms
- Asthma attacks
The most common symptoms of asthma are:
Experiencing one or more of these symptoms could mean you have asthma. It’s more likely to be asthma if your symptoms keep coming back, are worse at night, or happen when you react to a trigger – such as exercise, weather or an allergy.
Could it be asthma?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of asthma, book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible. They’ll be able to work out whether it’s asthma or something else, such as a chest infection, gastric reflux, or a bad cold.
If you think your child might have asthma, we have more information on spotting the symptoms in children.
A cough that keeps coming back is a symptom of asthma. It’s more likely to be asthma if your cough is accompanied by other asthma symptoms, like wheezing, breathlessness or chest tightness.
Not everyone with asthma coughs. If you do cough it’s usually dry, or someone with uncontrolled asthma might have thick clear mucus when they cough. The right treatment can mean you’re cough-free most of the time.
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling noise coming from your airways, mostly when you breathe out.
Some people feel their asthma isn’t taken seriously because they don’t wheeze. You may still have asthma even if you haven't noticed a whistling sound - so don’t put off seeing your GP.
Finding it hard to breathe, or getting breathless, is another common asthma symptom. Some people with asthma notice this gets worse when they do exercise, and it can put them off staying active.
It’s normal for most people to get a bit out of breath with exercise, but if you’re noticing it’s bringing on asthma symptoms, see your GP or asthma nurse. The good news is that if asthma is well controlled most people can exercise without any problems.
Some people may find it difficult to take a deep breath in, or a long breath out. One of the symptoms of an asthma attack is that it’s very hard to breathe. People who are very breathless might struggle to talk, eat or sleep.
Chest tightness is often described as having a heavy weight on the chest or feeling like a band is tightening around your chest.
It may also feel like a dull ache, or a sharp stabbing pain in the chest. It can make it difficult to take a deep breath in.
Video: What are the common symptoms of asthma?Asthma nurse Kathy explains what the common symptoms of asthma are, so you can spot them
Transcript for 'What are the common symptoms of asthma?'
0:00 The symptoms of asthma can vary from mild to more serious. Not everyone will get all of the symptoms; some people get symptoms from time to time, especially if
0:12 they come in contact with a trigger, such as pollen, or a cold virus. It's important to know what the common symptoms of asthma are, so you can spot
0:23 them, and take immediate action to stop an asthma attack. The common symptoms of asthma are, first of all, wheezing. This is a whistling sound, usually when you breathe out.
0:37 Everyone's wheezing sounds different, and in some people you can't hear a wheeze at all.
0:46 Coughing is also a common symptom. A lot of people with asthma cough. Shortness of breath is another common symptom of asthma, it can be described as
0:59 struggling to get air into their lungs, or it can be struggling to breathe normally, and some people with asthma describe it as breathing through a straw.
1:12 And finally, tightness of the chest is also a common symptom of asthma, and some people describe it as a heavy weight on their chest when they're trying to breathe
1:26 And remember, you don't have to put up with symptoms. If you take your preventer inhaler prescribed by your GP,
1:34 Even when you are well, this can help keep symptoms under control. If you do have any questions or worries about your asthma symptoms please do call the friendly nurses on their
1:50 Helpline; it's open every day, Monday to Friday, from 9 to 5
It’s a good idea to start a diary of your symptoms before speaking to your GP. Taking note of when symptoms flare-up may help you to understand your triggers. This diary will then help your GP to understand and properly assess your condition. You could also try filming your symptoms if they are hard to describe.
There are several different tests for asthma - so your GP won’t be able to diagnose you straightaway. Our advice on diagnosing asthma explains this process in more detail.
If you are diagnosed with asthma, for most people the right treatment will mean you can live a normal, active life. Whilst there is no cure for asthma, taking your medicines as prescribed will usually mean you can live with little to no symptoms.
If you find your symptoms are getting worse, speak to your GP or asthma nurse as soon as you can.
An asthma attack is when your symptoms (tight chest, breathlessness) get much worse. It can happen suddenly or build up gradually over a few days. Find out more about spotting the symptoms of an asthma attack.
You can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to talk to a respiratory nurse specialist about your asthma symptoms. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.
Last reviewed June 2021
Next review due June 2024