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Signs of an asthma attack

Symptoms

If you do not know if you have asthma, these 4 symptoms could be signs that you do:

  • Coughing that sometimes wakes you up at night.
  • Wheezing, or a whistling sound when you breathe. You may hear it more when you breathe out. It can start as a low-sounding whistle and get higher.
  • Breathing problems that include having shortness of breath, feeling like you are out of breath, gasping for air, having trouble breathing out, or breathing faster than normal. When breathing gets very difficult, the skin of your chest and neck may suck inward.
  • Chest tightness

Other warning signs

Other early warning signs of an asthma attack are:

  • An itchy neck
  • Dark bags under your eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Being short-tempered or irritable
  • Feeling nervous or edgy

Danger signs

Call 9-1-1 right away if you have any of the following symptoms. These are signs of a serious medical emergency.

  • You are having trouble walking or talking because it is so hard to breathe.
  • You are hunching over.
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue or gray.
  • You are confused or less responsive than usual.

If your child has asthma, the child's caregivers must know to call 9-1-1 if your child has any of these symptoms. This includes teachers, babysitters, and others who take care of your child.

References

National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Rockville, MD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2007. NIH publications 08-4051.

Updated: 4/26/2014

Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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