Signs of an asthma attack

Also known as: Asthma attack - signs of, Reactive airway disease - asthma attack or Bronchial asthma - attack


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 911 or your local emergency number 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 911 if your child has any of these symptoms. This includes teachers, babysitters, and others who take care of your child.


Durrani SR, Busse WW. Management of asthma in adolescents and adults. In: Adkinson NF Jr, Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 55.

Novak RM, Tokarski GF. Asthma. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 73.

Sveum R, Bergstrom J, Brottman G, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Diagnosis and management of asthma. Updated July 2012. Accessed April 11, 2016.

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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