What are the symptoms of asthma?

Young boy being given asthma medication by his carer

Your doctor will usually prescribe asthma medicines to help prevent or minimise your asthma symptoms. Image: Nick Stubbs/shutterstock.com

Asthma symptoms are caused by inflamed, narrowed and sensitive airways. They can be brought on or made worse by particular triggers, such as dust mites or pollen.

Symptoms can vary from person to person and from time to time, and sometimes you may not have any symptoms at all.

The most common asthma symptoms are:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing — a high-pitched raspy sound when breathing
  • tightness in the chest
  • persistent cough, particularly at night, early morning, or with exercise or activity.

You may have all these symptoms, or only a wheeze or a cough. You can still be diagnosed with asthma even when you don't have typical asthma symptoms.

A recent onset of asthma symptoms is known as an 'acute asthma exacerbation' or an 'asthma attack'. These attacks can range from mild to severe.

Treating asthma symptoms

There is no cure for asthma, so the aim of treatment is to manage symptoms and prevent your asthma worsening. This is known as good asthma control.

Your doctor will usually prescribe asthma medicines to help prevent or minimise your asthma symptoms. Your doctor will also demonstrate to you how to use the delivery devices for your asthma medicine or medicines correctly, as this will affect how well they work for you.  

Reliever medicines are commonly used for the immediate relief of asthma symptoms.

Preventer medicines are used on an ongoing, daily basis, whether you have asthma symptoms or not.

While some people are able to manage their asthma using only a reliever medicine, many people will also require a preventer medicine, or another type of asthma medicine to maintain good asthma control.

Read how to treat an asthma attack and what to do in an asthma emergency.

See a doctor if symptoms worsen

If you develop frequent or unpredictable asthma symptoms, and need to use a reliever medicine more than two days per week, you may have poor asthma control. See your doctor promptly so they can check:

  • what could be making your asthma symptoms worse  (e.g. an illness, such as a cold or flu)
  • whether your asthma medicines or doses need to be changed
  • that you are taking your asthma medicine(s) effectively and using the correct technique for your asthma medicine delivery device.

Asthma Action Plan

Ask your doctor for a written Asthma Action Plan to help you manage your symptoms and recognise worsening asthma.

Your Asthma Action Plan records how to use your medicines when your asthma is under control (good asthma control), and what to do if you have an asthma attack.

Make sure that your written Asthma Action Plan is updated to reflect any changes made to your treatment.

Find out more

References
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The relevant consumer medicine information (CMI) and product information (PI) have been consulted for every medicine discussed.

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