If a television or movie producer wishes to portray that a character suffers from asthma, they have one go-to trick that tends to get the message across without fail: have the character “wheeze”. Wheezing is one of the most recognizable symptoms of asthma, and one that has become synonymous with the illness for non-sufferers. The raspy, noisy breaths have become a common identifying tool to alert non-sufferers should an asthmatic suffer an attack, and it is a well-used and quick way to alert viewers of a television show that a character has asthma.

Unfortunately, over time this quick-usage has resulted in the misconception that all asthma sufferers wheeze when they breathe – particularly if suffering an attack. This, however, is not the case. The exact figures are difficult to be certain of, but up to 40% of asthmatics do not report wheezing as a common issue with their illness. It is far more likely for sufferers to have a persistent cough rather than a wheeze; and wheezing is more likely to indicate more serious lung problems than asthma.

Of course, if you hear someone wheezing it is well and good to assume they have asthma. This issue only becomes important when one considers that people may be suffering asthma symptoms, but believes that because they do not wheeze, they cannot possibly have asthma – and they thus leave their symptoms unchecked by a doctor. Any kind of shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing or general lung discomfort is worth alerting a physician over – don’t assume that just because there is no wheeze, there is no asthma.