Is it possible to have asthma without wheezing?

Answers from James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D.

Yes, it's possible to have asthma without wheezing.

A wheeze is a whistling sound produced by air flowing through a narrowed airway. Although a wheeze occurs primarily on exhaling, it can be heard on inhaling as well. Wheezing is a common sign of asthma, particularly in children. However, asthma doesn't always produce a wheeze you can hear. Instead, other signs and symptoms of asthma may be more prominent. These can include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing

These signs and symptoms of asthma may get worse during play or exercise. A cold or other respiratory infection also can make asthma symptoms more noticeable.

If you suspect you or your child may have asthma, see a doctor to have it checked out. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent asthma from getting worse, and can help you or your child avoid a bad asthma attack.

When you see the doctor, be prepared to answer very specific questions. When considering a diagnosis, the doctor will want to know as much as possible about any unusual breathing sounds or other possible signs of asthma.

In older children and adults, lung function tests can be used to make an asthma diagnosis. Children usually don't develop the skills to take these tests until they're about 4 years old, so asthma diagnosis in younger children is generally based on what a parent notices and tells the doctor.

While not all unusual breathing sounds are a sign of asthma or another underlying health condition that needs treatment, see the doctor to make sure.

Mar. 19, 2010