Symptoms of asthma

Worried you might have asthma? Here’s how to spot the tell-tale signs.

It can be confusing to tell if you have asthma. Not everyone experiences all the symptoms all the time, and they can range from mild to serious. 

The most common symptoms of asthma:  

You don’t need to have all these symptoms to have asthma.

They might only happen when you react to a trigger, like pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, cold air or pets.

See a doctor if you think you have asthma

Don’t wait before visiting your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms. The only way to find out for sure if it’s asthma is to go to the doctor. And if it’s not asthma, your symptoms could be a sign of something else, such as chest infection or a bad cold, so it’s worth getting checked out.


You may notice your cough keeps coming back and/or is accompanied by a wheezing sound. Coughing is often worse at night or early in the morning.

People with asthma tell us coughing outbursts can be embarrassing. But, with the right treatment, you will be 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 concerns have been dismissed, because their wheeze comes and goes or, it's hard to hear. But, you may still have asthma, even if you haven't noticed this whistling sound. So, don’t put off seeing your doctor.  


You might get short of breath even after light or moderate activity. This can come on quickly or gradually.

Breathlessness can also mean trouble breathing out, as well as in, and having to concentrate to regulate your breathing. You may even struggle to talk, eat or sleep.

Chest tightness

The tight chest is a very uncomfortable feeling. It's like being put in a corset, or finding I have a boa constrictor round my chest! Of all the symptoms it's the one I most want to get rid of. - Eloise

Chest tightness is often described as having a heavy weight on the chest, a bit like being crushed by an elephant. It may feel like a dull ache, or a sharp stabbing in the chest. It can make it difficult to take a deep intake of breath.

What are the common symptoms of asthma?

Asthma nurse Kathy explains what the common symptoms of asthma are, so you can spot them

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

What can make asthma symptoms more likely?

It’s not clear exactly why some people have asthma, but asthma is more likely if:

  • you have eczema and other allergies, like hay fever (an allergy to pollen)
  • you have a family history of asthma
  • your mother smoked while she pregnant with you
  • you were born prematurely
  • you suffered with bronchiolitis (a childhood lung infection).

How to explain your symptoms to your doctor

You could keep a diary of your symptoms before your appointment. This will help your doctor to properly asses your condition. And taking note of when symptoms flare up may help you spot your triggers.

There are several different tests for asthma, and so your GP won’t be able to diagnose you straightaway. Our advice on diagnosing asthma explains this process in more detail.

Will I always have these asthma symptoms?

Sadly, asthma isn’t curable, and if you develop asthma as an adult, it’s likely you’ll have the condition for the rest of your life. But, with the right treatment you should be able to live a normal, active life, without symptoms. 

The first step is to make sure you take your medicines as prescribed. Read more about ways you can manage asthma.

You’ll also find lots of reassuring advice in our leaflet Live Well with Asthma.

Still feeling worried? Or perhaps you have some questions? Call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 to chat to one of our asthma nurses (Mon-Fri, 9am -5pm). You can also WhatsApp them.


Last reviewed June 2018

Next review due June 2021