Asthma symptoms may differ somewhat in adults and children. In addition, severity and duration of symptoms vary from mild to severe.
Common asthma symptoms include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Complaints of chest pain or odd sensations
- Difficulty during feeding in infants
- Trouble sleeping
- Limited exercise tolerance or avoiding exercise or sports
Warning Signs of an Impending Asthma Attack
There are warning signs that signal an impending asthma attack. By learning to recognize these early symptoms as warning signs, you can help prevent attacks or reduce their severity.
- Increased shortness of breath and wheezing
- Chest tightness or pain
- An increased need to use bronchodilators
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling
- Frequent coughing or cough spasms
- Waking up coughing in the night
- Shortness of breath while stationery or exercising
- Feelings of tightness in the chest
- Restless sleep patterns
What Happens During an Asthma Attack?
Exposure to asthma triggers can cause airways to contract and become inflamed, narrowed, and clogged with mucus. Less room is available for air to flow in and out of the lungs. The duration of the asthma attack varies. Attacks range from mild to severe and last anywhere from a few minutes to several days. During attacks, bronchial muscles go into spasm, causing air to be trapped in tiny air breathing sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. Asthma attacks may be fatal if not identified and treated.
Airway Narrowed Due to Mucus Plugs
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American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
website. Available at:
http://www.acaai.org/allergist/asthma/symptoms/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.
American Lung Association
website. Available at:
http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma/learning-more-about-asthma/symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment.html. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Asthma in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 7, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Asthma exacerbation in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 15th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2001.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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