5 Asthma Symptoms You May Not Recognize

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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You’re probably familiar with the most common symptoms of asthma. The wheezing. The trouble breathing. The tightness in your chest. All of these are well-known manifestations of asthma. But there are also symptoms you might not readily associate with asthma. You might brush them off as something else altogether, so it’s worth learning what they are—so you won’t ignore them when it counts.  

1. You thought it was just a cold.

You’ve been writing off the symptoms as the annoying symptoms of a cold that you can’t seem to kick. But actually, some symptoms that can be associated with an upper respiratory infection are also signs of asthma, notably a lingering cough. A persistent cough is actually a common symptom of asthma that often goes unrecognized because people often do associate a cough with an illness. But an asthma cough won’t respond to cough medicines, and it probably won’t go away on its own. So if that cough has hung on for several weeks, or even longer, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

2. You feel like you might have hay fever.

You’re sneezing constantly, and your nose is running. Also, your eyes are itchy and red. Sounds like allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, right? Yes. But many people who have asthma are also saddled with allergic rhinitis.

A word of caution: some people developed red, irritated eyes and nasal congestion after being exposed to certain chemicals for a lengthy amount of time. If you’ve been breathing in fumes on the job for a number of months or years and notice those symptoms, in addition to coughing and wheezing, you might have developed what’s called “occupational asthma.” The longer you are exposed to the irritating agent, the worse the symptoms tend to get.

3. You’re having trouble sleeping—and you’re really tired.

Many people experience more asthma symptoms at night anyway. The asthma-associated coughing and wheezing in the wee hours can cause insomnia and run up your sleep deficit. That in turn, can make you feel utterly exhausted. So you might not want to just write off some excess fatigue to that long day or stressful week of work—it could actually be the result of your asthma.

4. Your GI system isn’t quite right.

Indigestion or heartburn giving you trouble? It might not be the result of the spicy food you ate last night—or at least, your dinner might not be the only culprit. Asthma can also upset your gastrointestinal system. The wheezing and coughing can lead to gastric reflux, the phenomenon that occurs when your stomach acid flows back up into your esophagus, causing a burning sensation or a sour taste in your throat. The irritation to your throat and larynx can sometimes cause the airways in your lungs to constrict more, which can worsen your asthma. Talk to your doctor about an anti-reflux treatment if this is a problem you’re experiencing.

5. You’re sighing.

An occasional sigh is, of course, nothing to worry about. But if you find yourself sighing a lot or feeling breathless, it could be a symptom of asthma—your body may be trying to process extra air or trying to adjust to the oxygen that it’s receiving. However, it also could be a related condition called sighing dyspnea, which is essentially a feeling of shortness of breath that some people describe as “air hunger,” especially if there’s not any associated wheezing.

Any of those sound familiar? To further complicate your situation, you may not even experience these symptoms frequently or consistently, which may cause you to doubt whether they’re really linked to asthma after all. The best thing you can do is to be aware of the symptoms that you experience, whether you think they’re related to asthma or not, and discuss them with your doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 16
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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