Most people with asthma experience difficulty breathing and wheezing. However, some may experience unusual symptoms, such as a persistent dry cough.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. This long-term condition has no cure. The only way to prevent flare-ups is by proactively managing the condition with the appropriate medication, reducing exposure to allergens, and avoiding triggers whenever possible.

This article explains some of the more uncommon and unusual symptoms of asthma.

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Coughing is a common symptom in people with asthma. It usually presents along with wheezing.

However, a persistent, dry cough without other symptoms is an unusual asthma symptom.

Doctors refer to this as cough variant asthma. People with this form of asthma do not generally find relief through over-the-counter cough medications. Treatment requires asthma medication that typically comes in the form of an inhaler.

Preventing a cough variant asthma episode involves knowing and avoiding triggers. Common triggers include:

  • allergens, such as pollens, pet dander, and mold
  • laughing
  • exercise
  • irritants, such as smoke, air pollution, or strong odors
  • cold, flu, or other illness
  • changes in weather
  • stress

Some people with asthma report trouble sleeping due to congestion, wheezing, chronic coughing, and breathing issues. Additionally, without treatment, sleep disorders can contribute to worsened asthma symptoms and decreased quality of life.

In a 2018 study, researchers found that approximately 27% of people with asthma reported having obstructive sleep apnea. Another study in 2022 found a high prevalence of insomnia in participants with asthma.

Due to sleep issues in people with asthma, it can be difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Those with the condition asthma frequently report tiredness, lack of energy, and daytime sleepiness. A 2018 study reported that out of 733 clinical trial participants with asthma, 18.8% reported normal fatigue, 18.6% mild fatigue, and 62.6% severe fatigue.

In addition, chronic coughing utilizes a lot of energy, which can contribute to fatigue.

People with asthma may experience exercise-induced asthma. This happens when exercise worsens asthma symptoms. It involves the temporary and reversible contraction of the bronchial smooth muscle after exercise. This sometimes produces symptoms such as dyspnea, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing.

In addition to exercise, other factors that can cause exercise-induced asthma include:

  • cold and dry air
  • chlorine
  • air pollution

Shallow, rapid breathing is a symptom of asthma that requires immediate treatment, often due to constricted airways and difficulty getting oxygen into the lungs.

Sighing can also be a common yet unusual symptom of asthma. It is a typical way of expelling air from the body and has various triggers. Due to how asthma changes a person’s breathing patterns and the amount of air they are able to breathe, it may cause sighing. This is the body trying to either inhale or exhale excess air.

Anxiety may be common among those with long-term chronic conditions, including asthma. Physical and mental health have close associations — one can severely influence the other.

Anxiety can have various symptoms, both physical and emotional. Feeling anxious may exacerbate asthma symptoms because anxiety can affect a person’s breathing pattern.

Experiencing itchiness in the throat and face is an uncommon asthma symptom, which can be the result of allergies. Allergic asthma occurs if allergies trigger asthma symptoms.

A person with this type of asthma will experience a range of symptoms alongside more typical asthma symptoms. These include:

  • itchy skin
  • itchiness in the throat
  • runny nose
  • postnasal drip
  • skin rashes
  • sneezing
  • congestion.

Addressing the allergen can usually alleviate these symptoms. Common allergens include:

  • animal dander
  • dust mites
  • foods, such as nuts, milk, and seafood
  • mold
  • pollen

The following are answers to common questions about asthma.

What can people mistake for asthma?

There are several conditions that can mimic asthma symptoms and that people mistake for the condition. These include:

  • laryngeal hypersensitivity, which is when the nerves in the larynx, or voice box, become overly sensitive and begin to respond to stimulants they would not usually notice
  • inducible laryngeal obstruction, which is a narrowing of the larynx due to external triggers
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • cardiac failure
  • panic attacks and hyperventilation
  • allergic rhinitis
  • chronic upper airway cough syndrome
  • bronchiectasis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • central airway obstruction

What is atypical asthma?

Asthma becomes atypical when the symptoms are uncommon. Typical asthma involves symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath, while atypical asthma involves one or sometimes none of these symptoms.

Does asthma cause phlegm in the throat?

When the airways become narrow as a result of inflammation due to asthma irritation, there is an increase in the production of mucus or phlegm in the throat.

Asthma is a long-term, chronic condition that causes inflammation and tightening of the airways. This leads to shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms. These are the typical symptoms someone with asthma may experience. However, there are other less common symptoms. These include a chronic dry cough without other symptoms, anxiety, difficulty exercising, and sighing.

If a person experiences difficulty breathing or a persistent cough that does not go away with standard treatments, they need to speak with a healthcare professional.