Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: May 2016. | Last updated: June 2021
The four symptoms that are typical of asthma are:
People with asthma may have one, some, or all of these symptoms. The symptoms may be mild, moderate, or severe.1 Everyone’s asthma is different.2
Can asthma be diagnosed based on symptoms?
None of the asthma symptoms are specific to asthma. They each can be caused by many different medical conditions. The diagnosis of asthma is partially based on:
- The symptoms you have
- What situations trigger symptoms
- What time of the day or year you have symptoms
Clues that your symptoms are related to asthma are:2
- You experience them periodically.
- They are worse at night or during certain times of year.
- They are worse when you exercise or have a cold.
- They start when you are exposed to furry pets, mold, or smoke.
- They start when you laugh or cry hard.
Information about your symptoms is used together with a physical exam and tests to diagnose asthma.
Will treating asthma make my symptoms go away?
If your asthma is well controlled, you should have symptoms less than three days per week.2 Your symptoms should not wake you up at night. You should not miss work or school because of your symptoms. You should be able to participate fully in any activity that you choose, including exercise.2
If these goals are not being met, you can talk with your health care provider about changing your medication. It can be helpful to keep track of your symptoms in a daily diary.2 This will make follow-up visits with your health care provider easier. Your health care provider may also give you a questionnaire about your symptoms.
Do I need to take medications when I do not have symptoms?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease. This means that even when you do not have any symptoms, your airways may still be inflamed. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute strongly recommends taking your controller medications every day.2 These medications reduce the inflammation in your airways, which makes them less sensitive. If your airways are less sensitive, your risk of having an asthma attack is lower and your lung function will be better.2
What happens if my symptoms increase?
If your symptoms start suddenly, get progressively worse, or both, you may be having an asthma attack or asthma flare-up.2 A change in treatment is needed to improve the symptoms.1 Your health care provider should give you a written asthma action plan that describes how to treat your asthma based on the severity and frequency of your symptoms.2
Asthma flare-ups are less likely to happen if your symptoms are well controlled.2
What are atypical asthma symptoms?
“Atypical” symptoms are often symptoms of conditions that frequently occur along with asthma, called comorbidities. For example, eczema is a separate medical condition. It is an inflammatory skin disease that causes itchy, red rashes. However, it is so common in people with asthma, that health care providers look for signs of eczema when diagnosing asthma.2
Hyperventilation and deep sighing are usually related to anxiety or dysfunctional breathing. However, it is common for people with asthma to hyperventilate during an acute asthma attack. Therefore, people may think of it as an asthma symptom.