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Different people have different asthma symptoms, which can change over time or depending on the situation. Common asthma signs and symptoms include:

      • Feeling short of breath (at rest or when exercising)

      • Chest tightness

      • Coughing

      • Wheezing

These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions. If you have these symptoms or if you think you might have asthma, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Childhood asthma symptoms vs. adult asthma symptoms

Childhood asthma symptoms are generally similar to adult asthma symptoms. However, determining asthma symptoms in children can be a bit more difficult. Adult asthma symptoms are easier to determine since an adult can tell you how they are feeling plus they know their body better. Although you can see and hear the coughing and shortness of breath (laboured breathing, faster breath rate) in younger children, they may not be able to let you know how they are feeling. Plus young children are not able to do a breathing test called spirometry.

Some things you may notice in your child that could indicate asthma include:

      • Not being able to keep up with other children while running around

      • Having a hard time catching their breath or breathing faster than other children who are doing the same thing

      • Looks like they have a cold, which could actually be asthma

      • Coughing, especially at night

      • Coughing so hard that they vomit

      • You may hear wheezing (high pitched whistling sound)

      • If you notice any of these typical childhood asthma symptoms, see your doctor to find out if it is due to asthma.

Acute vs. chronic asthma symptoms

In medical related matters, "acute" simply means short term, and "chronic" means long term. Although asthma is a chronic disorder, since it usually lasts a long time (often a lifetime), you can have both chronic and acute asthma symptoms. If someone does not properly manage their asthma, they can have regular chronic symptoms for many weeks, months, or even years. For example, they could experience a regular cough that lasts a long time if not managed properly.

Then on top of the regular chronic cough, they may also sometimes experience an acute asthma worsening that leads to a symptom such as shortness of breath. This could perhaps be due to getting a cold, or exposure to pollen or air pollution.

When someone has asthma, it is very important to keep it well controlled so that there are no chronic asthma symptoms. You can’t avoid all asthma symptoms all the time, but in general the symptoms should be uncommon and mild.

It is also very important to monitor your asthma so that you notice when there are acute asthma symptoms starting and can take the necessary measures to get it under control before it leads to an asthma attack. A written asthma action plan from your doctor can be very helpful in guiding your treatment decisions.



With a proper diagnosis, your doctor and asthma healthcare team can help you manage your asthma.

To make a diagnosis of asthma the doctor will:

Take a detailed medical history

Your doctor will ask questions about your family medical history, your breathing problems, and other asthma symptoms you might have.

Do a physical examination

The doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope, examine your nasal passages, etc.

Test your breathing with spirometry

Spirometry is a fairly simple breathing test that measures the flows and volumes of air you can blow out of your lungs. This might be done in a hospital or in your doctor’s office. For this test, you'll be asked to breathe out as fast and long as possible through a tube attached to a small machine. Because Spirometry takes some coordination, children are not usually able to do the test until they are about 6 or 7 years old.

Your doctor may also order other tests

      • Chest x-ray

      • Lab tests on your blood and sputum (phlegm, mucus)

      • Allergy testing: Your doctor may refer you to an allergist, who will test you for specific allergies, ask what your symptoms are and when you notice them. Usually allergists use a skin prick test. This may help to find out what allergies makes your asthma worse.

      • Challenge tests: These tests are available in some hospitals. They are a type of breathing test that shows how "twitchy" or hyper-responsive your airways are.

Trial of asthma medications

The doctor may give you asthma medications to try out. If the asthma medications make your symptoms go away, this may help to make the diagnosis of asthma.