Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School



Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing (a whistling sound as air is forcibly expelled)

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Chest tightness

  • A persistent cough

For some people with asthma, a chronic cough is the main symptom.

Symptoms of a severe asthma attack can include:

  • Extreme shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness

  • A rapid pulse

  • Sweating

  • Flared nostrils and pursed lips

  • A need to sit upright

  • A bluish discoloration of the lips and fingernails

Between asthma attacks or flare-ups, people with mild or moderate asthma may not have any symptoms.

In some people, symptoms flare up only during or after exercise.

People with asthma tend to have more severe symptoms when they have an upper respiratory infection such as a cold or the flu.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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