Learning Your Asthma Symptoms and Signs

by John Bottrell Health Professional

One positive thing about asthma is your body lets you know how things are going inside through symptoms and signs. A symptom is something only you can feel. A sign is something others may observe. Here are nine of the most common symptoms and signs of asthma.

Itchy chin or throat

This is a symptom that may appear before you have an asthma attack, but it may also be present during the attack. While many asthmatics observe this, scientists do not understand why it occurs.

Allergy symptoms

Allergies are an abnormal response to substances that are harmless to most people, such as dust mites, pollen, and mold. Once you observe a stuffy and runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing and coughing, you know it’s time to remove yourself from whatever it is you have exposed yourself to.

Cold symptoms

One of the most common causes of asthma are viral infections. Inside your lungs they may trigger the asthma response. So once you feel the symptoms — itchy or sore throat, stuffy and runny nose, coughing and sneezing, fatigue — action may be necessary to prevent asthma, such as calling your physician.

Chest tightness or pain

As the disease gains a grip on your lungs, this forces you to use your accessory muscles to breathe. Accessory muscles are not normally used for breathing in healthy lungs. So, sort of like how your muscles ache after a hard workout, your accessory muscles may ache once you are using them to breathe.


Air moving through narrowed air passages will cause a whistling noise called a wheeze. Depending on your Asthma Action Plan, you may need to take immediate steps.


A part of the asthma response is your body creating excessive amounts of secretions. As these build up, your body will create a cough to remove the sputum. Usually asthma sputum is white; although, if you have a cold caused by a virus, it may be light yellow. If you have bacteria in your lungs it may be dark yellow, green, or brown.

Shortness of Breath

Despite contrary belief, difficulty breathing is not always the first symptom you feel. Still, it is the tell-tale symptom of asthma. It’s caused by air passages that are narrowed when the muscles wrap around them to spasm and squeeze the airways. Excessive mucus production may also block airways.

Hunched Shoulders & Difficulty Speaking

In order to make more room for air in your lungs, a natural mechanism causes you to raise your shoulders as high as you can. As your asthma attack becomes more severe, this may require you to lean on things to breathe. Speaking may be difficult, so you speak in short, choppy sentences. When you observe these symptoms your asthma attack is severe and it’s time to take immediate action.

Paradoxical Breathing

Normal breathing results in little chest movement. Normally your stomach goes out on inspiration and in on expiration. You don’t have to think much about it, it just happens. During an asthma attack, a natural tendency is to suck in your stomach to push up your diaphragm to force air into your lungs. This is a symptom and sign of a severe asthma attack and immediate action is needed.

Be Vigilant

The simplest way to prevent and treat asthma is by paying close attention to what your body is saying. Your physician may help you understand your signs and symptoms and what to do when you observe them.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).