Updated 25 January 2019

Asthma symptoms

If your asthma isn’t completely controlled, you may experience symptoms.

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of the narrowing in the airways. This prevents you from breathing out properly. This, in turn, affects your ability to breathe in good, clean air. And, with less oxygen reaching your lungs, it may feel as if you can't get enough air.

If your asthma isn’t 100% controlled, you may experience the following:

  • Coughing (note that coughing to try to dislodge blockages in your airways won’t help)
  • Difficulty breathing / shortness of breath / rapid breathing
  • Wheezing (noisy breathing as a result of air being forced past narrowed airways)
  • Tight chest
  • Anxiety
  • Interrupted sleep

When severe (as in the case of an acute asthma attack), the above symptoms are worse and you may also experience the following:

  • Difficulty talking
  • A pale, sweaty face
  • A choking sensation

Knowing the symptoms of asthma will help you to recognise when your asthma isn’t under control. This will also help you to prevent a severe acute asthma attack. In other words, you’ll be empowered to take charge of your asthma management.

If you’re currently experiencing symptoms, you may need additional reliever therapy to open up your airways. Additionally, it’s important to check that you’re using your controller treatment every day, exactly as prescribed. Skipping your controller treatment (even just for a day) will make it harder to manage your symptoms.

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

Reviewed by independent healthcare consultant Prof Praneet Valodia and pulmonologist Prof Elvis Irusen, Head of the Division of Pulmonology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University. October 2018.

Read more:

- What causes asthma?

- Asthma risk factors


Ask the Expert

Asthma Expert

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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