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Asthma symptoms

Asthma affects the airways, causing them to tighten, become inflamed or to fill with mucus. Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness, pain or pressure.

Every person with asthma will have different severity of symptoms and different triggers.

Some people with asthma may go for long periods without having any symptoms, interrupted by periodic worsening of their symptoms called asthma attacks. Others might have asthma symptoms every day. In addition, some people with asthma may only have asthma during exercise or asthma with infections like colds.

Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours. Severe attacks are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognise and treat even mild symptoms to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under better control.

Know the early asthma symptoms

Early warning signs are changes that happen just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack. These asthma attack symptoms may start before the well-known symptoms of asthma and are the earliest signs that your asthma is worsening.

In general, these signs are not severe enough to stop you from going about your daily activities. But, by recognising these signs, you can stop an asthma attack or prevent one from getting worse. Early warning signs include:

  • Frequent cough, especially at night or on waking
  • Losing your breath easily or shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired or weak when exercising
  • Wheezing or coughing after exercise
  • Feeling tired, easily upset, grouchy, or moody
  • Decreases or changes in lung function as measured on a peak flow meter
  • Signs of a cold, or allergies (sneezing, runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat and headache)
  • Trouble sleeping.

If you have early warning signs or symptoms, you should take more asthma medication as described in your asthma action plan.

Know the asthma symptoms in children

In the UK more than 1.1 million children have asthma.  While asthma symptoms can begin at any age, most children have their first asthma symptoms by age five.

Asthma is characterised by inflammation of the bronchial tubes with increased production of sticky secretions inside the tubes. Not all children with asthma wheeze. Chronic coughing with asthma may be the only obvious sign, and a child’s asthma may go unrecognised if the cough is attributed to recurrent bronchitis.

Know the symptoms of an asthma attack

An asthma attack is an episode during which bands of muscle surrounding the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm. During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed and the cells lining the airways produce more and thicker mucus than normal.

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