Is trouble breathing a sign of asthma?

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

Trouble breathing can be a sign of asthma. For many people, the main signs and symptoms of asthma are wheezing, shortness of breath, excess mucus and chest tightness. For others, a chronic cough that comes and goes every now and then may be the main or only symptom of asthma.

Such symptoms can also be caused by certain medications and other conditions, including emphysema, respiratory infections, bronchitis, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), acid reflux and heart disease (cardiovascular disease).

Asthma is more likely to be causing your symptoms if:

  • You have episodes of coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath that come and go and last more than a few weeks.
  • Symptoms seem to be triggered by specific things, such as allergy-causing substances (allergens), cold air, exercise or pollutants such as chemical fumes, engine exhaust or cigarette smoke.
  • You're an adult who had asthma or asthma-like symptoms as a child.
  • You have hay fever or other allergies, or you have family members with allergies or asthma.

See your doctor if you have a cough or other respiratory symptoms that last more than a few weeks. Even if it isn't asthma, it may be something that needs treatment. If you have severe trouble breathing or shortness of breath with chest pain or nausea, seek immediate emergency care.

Aug. 12, 2017 See more Expert Answers