People with asthma experience symptoms when the airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms of asthma include:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness, pain or pressure.
Still, not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your asthma symptoms may also vary from one asthma attack to the next, being mild during one asthma attack and severe during another.
Some people with asthma may go for extended 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 viral 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.
1. 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.
2. Know the asthma symptoms in children
In the UK more than 1.1 million children have asthma. For unknown reasons, the incidence of asthma in children is steadily increasing. 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.