How do I know if I have asthma?

Information from the NHS about asthma.

How do I know if I have asthma?

People of all ages can develop asthma, although it often starts in childhood. Most people will find out they have asthma after experiencing symptoms and visiting their GP.

Your GP will talk to you about your symptoms and may suggest doing some simple tests to confirm if you have asthma[1]. Tests might include blowing or breathing into a machine. Your doctor may also suggest an allergy test to check whether your asthma is caused by an allergy.

These tests can’t always be done with young children, so your GP might give your child an inhaler until they’re old enough to have the tests[1].

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • a whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
  • breathlessness
  • a tight chest, which may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • coughing

The symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse. This is known as an asthma attack.

Asthma is usually treated by using an inhaler, a small device that lets you breathe in medicines.

The main types are:

  • reliever inhalers – used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
  • preventer inhalers – used every day to prevent asthma symptoms happening

Some people also need to take tablets.

Asthma is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This makes the tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily narrow.

It may happen randomly or after exposure to a trigger.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • allergies (to house dust mites, animal fur or pollen, for example)
  • smoke, pollution and cold air
  • exercise
  • infections like colds or flu

Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers can help you keep your symptoms under control.

The main symptoms of asthma include wheezing and shortness of breath. There may be times when the symptoms get better and times when they get worse.

The main treatments for asthma are inhalers that either ease symptoms when they happen or help stop symptoms happening.

Asthma is caused by inflammation of the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. It's sometimes triggered by things like allergies or smoke.


April 2021

Next review

April 2022

Reviewed by

Gill Stone MRPharmS


  1. 1.

    Asthma. Published October 20, 2017. Accessed March 15, 2021.