Updated 22 April 2016

Symptoms of asthma

Symptoms of asthma vary from patient to patient, but most sufferers will experience wheezing and difficulty breathing.


Asthma symptoms differ from person to person, and over time. Asthma attacks can range from mild to severe and can change in severity.  Symptoms of asthma vary, depending on the severity of the airway obstruction.

This prevents sufficient oxygen from reaching the alveoli, which means that less can be transferred to the blood. This makes sufferers feel as though they aren’t getting enough air and are forced to breathe harder and faster.

Asthmatics often experience a whistling (wheezing) sound as they breathe out – this is caused by air being forced out of the narrowed airways. They may also try coughing to dislodge the blockage, but this won’t help, as the bronchi themselves are narrowed or their lining is thickened. There may also be thick mucus plugs that can’t be dislodged, no matter how hard you cough.

Asthma symptoms are often worse at night and in the early morning.

If you’re concerned that you may have asthma, watch out for the following symptoms:


•    Coughing which usually occurs more frequently at night or with activity. The cough is usually dry and persistent.
•    An asthma wheeze (whistle) on breathing out
•    Shortness of breath or rapid, panting breath 
•    Chest tightness 
•    Tiring quickly during exercise 


•    Fatigue and lack of stamina causing the child to slow down or stop play 
•    Coughing usually at night or with activity. Coughing usually starts late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It can be dry or wet and is persistent. 
•    Complaints of chest pain 
•    Avoidance and a refusal to participate in active sports and games 
•    Asthma wheeze (whistle) 


•    Rapid breathing often with wheezing 
•    Grunting during feeding 
•    Difficulty with feeding 

Read more:

How is asthma treated? 

How severe is your asthma? 

How is asthma diagnosed?

Reviewed and updated by Prof Eugene Weinberg, Paediatrician Health24, April 2015.


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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