Recognition of an Asthma Attack

Recognition of Mild to Moderate Asthma

Asthma can be recognised by the following symptoms and signs:

  • A dry, irritating, persistent cough, particularly at night, early morning, with or without exercise or activity
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheeze (high pitched whistling sound during breathing).
Recognition of a Severe Asthma Attack

Symptoms and signs of a severe asthma attack include some or all the following:

  • Gasping for breath (may have little or no wheeze due to little movement of air)
  • Severe chest tightness
  • Inability to speak more than one or two words per breath.
  • Feeling distressed and anxious
  • Little or no improvement after using reliever medication.
  • ‘Sucking in’ of the throat and rib muscles, use of shoulder muscles or bracing with arms to help breathing.
  • Blue discolouration around the lips (can be hard to see if skin colour also changes)
  • Pale and sweaty skin
  • Symptoms rapidly getting worse or using reliever more than every two hours.

As well as the above symptoms, young children appear restless, unable to settle or become drowsy. A child may also ‘suck’ in muscles around the ribs and may have problems eating or drinking due to shortness of breath. A child may also have severe coughing and vomiting.

An asthma attack can take anything from a few minutes to a few days to develop.