Asthma: signs, symptoms and complications


The characteristic symptoms of asthma ( wheezing , coughing , chest tightness , and shortness of breath ) are caused by a sudden narrowing of the bronchial tubes (airways) and excess mucus in the lungs. In addition to these symptoms, asthma can cause major changes in the lungs in the short and long term. This, in turn, can lead to more frequent and severe symptoms.

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Therefore, knowing how to read the signs is the first step in preventing asthma complications and maintaining optimal respiratory health.

Frequent symptoms

The four classic signs of asthma are:

  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing


Wheezing is wheezing or a harsh sound that occurs when you breathe. This is the symptom most commonly associated with asthma and the main reason people and parents seek help when they are concerned about asthma .

Wheezing is usually heard when you breathe out, but can also be heard when you breathe in, often indicating poor asthma control. It occurs when inflammation causes the bronchial tubes to narrow (narrowing of the airways), making it difficult for air to flow .

Wheezing should not be confused with stridor , a high-pitched noise that is a hallmark of croup. Stridor occurs due to decreased airflow caused by an obstruction outside the lung.


Coughing is one of the classic signs of asthma, especially if it worsens at night or interferes with sleep. Chronic coughing can also be a sign of poor asthma control.

If your healthcare provider suspects you have asthma, they may ask if you cough at night or during exercise. In asthma patients, a nighttime cough two or more times a month may mean that you need to increase your intake of asthma medications.

Chest tightness

Chest tightness can occur with other classic asthma symptoms or on its own. Patients generally describe this as a very unpleasant sensation when there is no air in their lungs. Many people say, "I feel bad." This can cause them great anxiety as they think they will not be able to breathe normally.

If you think something is sitting or squeezing your chest, talk to your doctor. If it is severe, it can be life-threatening and you should seek immediate medical attention. Chest symptoms can be a sign of a possible asthma attack, as well as a heart attack.

Difficulty breathing

Shortness of breath is a feeling of shortness of breath and inability to catch your breath that can occur with asthma. Your healthcare provider may call this shortness of breath, while others may call it "shortness of breath" or feeling unable to catch your breath. In some, the symptom may appear suddenly, in others – gradually.

This classic asthma symptom can appear before a diagnosis is made or be a sign of poor asthma control.

People experience and therefore can describe shortness of breath in different ways. Some patients are unable to perform as much activity as before, due to physical exertion, they begin to suffocate much earlier than usual. Others may notice chronic chest tightness, while others may feel like they need to take another breath before they can finish the exhale.

Shortness of breath is never normal, but neither is it unexpected with very strenuous exercise or traveling to high altitudes. Additionally, moderate exercise in an obese patient can also cause shortness of breath with less exercise than expected.

Symptom type

The typical picture of asthma symptoms is that they appear and disappear even the same day, but are often worse at night or in the morning. If you catch a cold or another viral infection, your asthma symptoms will often get worse. Symptoms are often due to allergies, cold air, exercise, or rapid breathing .

Rare symptoms

The cough variant of asthma can have a chronic dry cough without wheezing. Yawning or sighing frequently is another sign that your body cannot breathe normally. Rapid breathing (in adults, every two seconds or less) is another sign of shortness of breath when entering or leaving. Breathing problems can cause problems sleeping and concentrating. You may also have anxiety and fatigue.

Complications / Indications for a subgroup

One of the long-term complications of uncontrolled asthma is airway remodeling, which is a permanent narrowing of the bronchi in which normal tissue is replaced by scar tissue. Breathing difficulties similar to those of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( COPD ) can occur.

Babies and children

Childhood and childhood asthma is common. In addition to potentially the same symptoms that are seen in adults, babies may have difficulty feeding and may grunt while feeding. However, it is impossible to accurately diagnose asthma in babies; there is no evidence for that. Although wheezing is common, occurring in 40-50 percent of children, especially with a respiratory infection, it can disappear with age. Babies are screened for asthma risk factors according to the Asthma Prediction Index, which includes atopic dermatitis, parental history of allergies or asthma, high blood eosinophil levels, and food allergies.

Children may stop enjoying games, sports, or social activities when they get tired. The baby may complain of chest pain to convey a tightness in the chest. Childhood asthma can stunt growth and increase a child's risk of learning disabilities and obesity .

Pregnant women

Poorly controlled asthma during pregnancy reduces oxygen levels for both mother and fetus. This can lead to any of the following complications:

  • Infant death
  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Bleeding before and after delivery.
  • Depression
  • Preeclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Blood clots or pulmonary embolism.
  • Congenital malformations
  • Hyperemesis
  • Difficult delivery

Taking asthma medications can be associated with complications, but maintaining good asthma control generally outweighs the risks.

When to see a healthcare provider or go to the hospital

If you have not yet been diagnosed with asthma, see your doctor if you have frequent wheezing or a cough that lasts more than a few days.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you will try to keep your condition under control and monitor your condition to see if it gets worse, not better. When asthma is poorly controlled, you can probably expect one or more of the following symptoms:

  • You become more aware of your wheezing.
  • You have a persistent cough.
  • You cough harder at night or when it's cold.
  • Coughs or booms during exertion.
  • You get less relief with fast-acting medications.
  • It is more difficult to fall asleep or sleep well.
  • You quickly get tired of the tasks you usually do.
  • Allergy symptoms (eg, runny nose, itchy eyes) get worse.
  • It is less able to determine when an attack is about to begin.
  • You have a decrease in your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) .

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor to determine if there has been a significant change in your respiratory health. Spirometry and other tests can be used to assess the extent of these changes and what changes, if any, need to be made to your treatment plan.

If your asthma symptoms become more severe, it may reach a point where your symptoms cause severe distress and make your daily life difficult. If left untreated, respiratory failure can lead to serious complications and even death. Take no chances. Get urgent help.

Go to the emergency room if any of the following occur:

  • You have strong wheezing when you breathe in and out.
  • You breathe very fast ( tachypnea ).
  • You have trouble breathing while talking or have trouble speaking.
  • You sweat profusely while trying to breathe.
  • You have a bluish tinge to your fingertips or lips ( cyanosis ).
  • You cannot perform PEFR.
  • You feel terrible or in a panic.

Get the word of drug information

Regardless of the asthma signs you experience, be sure to check them out. Not all that causes wheezing is asthma, and many of these symptoms can occur with multiple conditions. It is important to have all of your symptoms evaluated, whether it has an explanation or not.

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