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Symptoms of asthma

Asthma is a common lung condition that affects the ability to breathe. This might mean difficulties breathing from time to time, or breathing problems most of the time.

It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood.

There is risk of severe asthma attacks, which can be life-threatening.

There's no cure for asthma. But there are treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it does not have a big impact on your life.


The most common symptoms of asthma are:

  • wheezing - a whistling sound when breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • a tight chest - it may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • coughing

Many things can cause these symptoms. But they're more likely to be asthma if they:

  • happen often and keep coming back
  • are worse at night and early in the morning
  • seem to happen in response to an asthma trigger such as exercise or an allergy to something such as pollen or animal fur

See a GP if you think you or your child may have asthma and you are finding it hard to control it.

Symptoms of anxiety can be similar to asthma. It is important to figure out if your breathing problems are caused by anxiety or asthma. There are different ways to deal with them depending on the cause.

Anxiety and how to deal with it

Asthma attacks

Asthma can sometimes get worse for a short time. This is known as an asthma attack. It can happen suddenly, or gradually over a few days.

Signs of a severe asthma attack include:

  • wheezing, coughing and chest tightness becoming severe and constant
  • being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep
  • breathing faster
  • a fast heartbeat
  • drowsiness, confusion, exhaustion or dizziness
  • blue lips or fingers
  • fainting

Read more about asthma attacks

Page last reviewed: 9 December 2020
Next review due: 10 December 2023

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 9.