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Asthma Symptoms

Understanding asthma symptoms is an important part of how we can control asthma.  

When we know more about the symptoms, as well as what makes them worse, it is easier to prevent them from affecting our quality of life.

There are four common asthma symptoms


There is a whistling sound when we breathe in or out. It happens because the air we are breathing has to squeeze through our narrow and constricted airways.


This common asthma symptom might only be for a short spell, or can be persistent. Coughing due to asthma tends to be worse at night and in the early morning. It can also happen during or just after physical activity.

Chest tightness

This is when the muscles around our airways tighten up, making us feel like our insides are being squeezed, almost as if there is something pressing down on our chest.

Breathlessness or shortness of breath

When our airways get smaller or blocked, breathing becomes more difficult, to the point where we feel like we cannot take deep, full breaths.

When do symptoms usually appear?

Most times, we get asthma symptoms when we come across an asthma trigger. Certain situations might also lead to asthma symptoms. For example, at night, if we take certain medication or when we are pregnant.

Asthma triggers

An asthma trigger is anything that causes asthma symptoms or an asthma attack. This includes allergens, irritants, conditions like haze, even situations such as stress at work. You can breathe easier by taking note of which triggers affect you and finding ways to minimise their effect.

Asthma at night

Our body makes certain substances that protect the airways from inflammation. At night, our body clock reduces the levels of those protective substances, which may be why symptoms are more severe or common at night.

Symptoms at night can also get worse when allergens like dust mites or pet dander cause a sinus infection or something called postnasal drip, which is when excess mucus flows down the back of the nose to the throat.

If you have heartburn that is caused by GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), lying down can make the heartburn and asthma symptoms worse. Try not to eat too close to bedtime and ask your doctor about GERD. Sometimes, treating GERD might also improve your asthma symptoms.

Other medication and asthma

Some medication, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, may trigger asthma. Examples include aspirin, cold medicine, nonsteroidal pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, and even some eyedrops used for glaucoma. When you next see your doctor, bring a list of the medicine you are taking and ask about how those might affect your asthma.

Asthma during pregnancy

Women with severe asthma may find that their asthma gets worse during pregnancy. Whether or not it is severe, make sure you talk to your doctor about your asthma if you are expecting.

To stop asthma from stopping you, learn how you can manage asthma. We would also suggest working with your doctor to develop an Asthma Action Plan you can refer to and use.

Do you know how often is too often?

If you find yourself using your rescue medication more than twice a week, see your doctor to learn how to better control your asthma. Alternatively, for a quick way to check whether you are in control of your asthma or only coping with it, just answer 5 questions using this Asthma Control TestTM.

Asthma Toolbox

Asthma Control Test

This quick 5-question test indicates your level of asthma control.  

Asthma Action Plan

This is an important guide your doctor can prepare for you to help you stay ahead of asthma at all times.


  1. So You Have Asthma. A guide for patients and their families. NIH publication No. 13-5248, Originally printed 2007. Revised March 2013
  2. Nathan RA, Sorkness CA, Kosinski M, et al. Development of the Asthma Control Test: a survey for assessing asthma control. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004;113(1):59-65.
  3. Asthma control test. OPTUM Web site. Accessed 5 July 2015
  4. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Web site. Accessed 5 July 2015. 
  5. Pregnancy. Asthma UK Web site. Accessed 24 July 2015.

SG/AST/0005/15a Certified 26/04/16.