Top 8 Signs of an Asthma Attack

It might feel like taking deep breaths of very cold air on a winter day. Your breathing becomes harder and may hurt. You may cough and wheeze. Is this an asthma attack?

If you have asthma, you already know that it makes the airways of your lungs swell and narrow. “The wheezing that sometimes you can hear, sometimes only a physician can hear, is when air is trying to squeeze through those little airways,” explains Anessa Alappatt, MD, Fairborn Medical Center. While no one knows for sure what causes asthma, it’s most likely a combination of inherited and environmental factors.

What is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack occurs when excess mucus clogs your air tubes, making it hard to breathe. Asthma attacks can be mild, moderate or severe. Even if you have mild symptoms, it’s important to see your physician. Asthma can permanently damage your lungs if untreated — even if you don’t have any trouble breathing.

An asthma attack occurs when excess mucus clogs your air tubes, making it hard to breathe.

To protect your health, it’s smart to know and recognize the most common signs of an asthma attack. Symptoms include:

  1. Coughing, especially at night or with mucus
  2. Feeling breathless
  3. Tightness in the chest
  4. Wheezing (breathing that makes a hoarse, squeaky, musical or whistling sound)
  5. Difficulty breathing and talking
  6. Feeling lightheaded
  7. Trouble sleeping
  8. Low energy or feeling tired

Dr. Alappatt talks about the symptoms of asthma in adults and children.

Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What Is Asthma And What Symptoms Are Associated With It?

Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs, where the small airways in the lungs can become constricted or even smaller and get filled with mucus and become swollen, so it limits the amount of air that can go through the lungs and, thus you get less oxygen. With that, the symptoms can be chest tightness because you feel those airways constrict, shortness of breath, obviously, because there is less oxygen. The wheezing that sometimes you can hear, sometimes only a physician can hear, is when that air is trying to squeeze through those little airways. Sometimes in children, the symptoms can be much less dramatic. They just may cough. You don't think, "Oh, cough, cough, cough, cough, cough." You know, you're not thinking that it's asthma, but nighttime cough, particularly, in children. Sometimes, children just get less energy. They may be playing with their friends and just come in more tired. So the symptoms in children can be less, much less, dramatic than an adult, who can say, "Gosh, I feel really tight today," or, you know, "I hear that wheezing." So those are some different things between adults and children, but the kind of reason behind it is the same.


When is It Serious?

To help you know when you need medical attention, use a peak flow meter every day so you know how much air typically flows out of your lungs. People with asthma have a lower air flow in and out of their lungs. By tracking your peak flow levels regularly, you can spot problems early – before you experience annoying or dangerous symptoms. A meter will also tell you and your doctor how serious your asthma attacks are. That way you’ll know when to take medicine or seek emergency care. And peak flow readings can also help you pinpoint your asthma triggers.

Some signs that your asthma is worse:Top 8 Signs of an Asthma Attack - In Content

  • Having symptoms at night
  • A drop in your peak flow
  • rescue medicine more often

Call your doctor or 911 if you experience extreme symptoms like blue lips or fingernails, or severe trouble breathing.

If you need medical assistance, contact CareFinders at 1-866-608-FIND to make an appointment with a physician, or call 911 immediately if it is an emergency.