Symptoms and Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack

By Walgreens
Symptoms and Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack

Having an asthma attack can be a frightening experience.

Asthma attack symptoms can include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. But with the right treatment plan, you can stop an asthma attack. Controlling your asthma well can also help reduce the risk of a future acute asthma attack. Learn more details about asthma attacks.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition that inflames the airways. Specifically, it causes inflammation and obstruction of the bronchial tubes (the tubes that let air in and out of your lungs). Asthma is chronic and requires long-term management.

What is an asthma attack?

Sometimes, the lungs become irritated which causes the muscles around the airways to tighten. This narrows the airways further and makes it hard to breathe. This is called an asthma attack or flare-up.

Asthma treatment

There are two kinds of asthma medications. Many people take both. The first type of treatment is a quick-relief medication, also known as rescue inhaler, to take if you have an asthma attack. The other is a long-term control medication that you'd take every day to keep your asthma at bay. People with exercise-induced asthma are often told to use their rescue inhaler before starting to exercise so that they avoid having an attack.

Managing your asthma well can help reduce your chance of asthma attacks. Your health care provider will create a treatment plan to help control your asthma. Your plan will likely include details of the actions you should take if you have an asthma attack and most likely will involve using a peak flow meter. You'll figure out your peak flow measurement when you feel well. This is your "personal best." Then, if you have an asthma attack, you can measure your peak flow to help determine if you're having a mild or severe attack, and medicate appropriately according to your action plan.

What causes asthma attacks?

When you have asthma, many things can irritate the lungs and activate changes in the airways. Asthma attack triggers can include allergens, chemicals, odors, respiratory infections, physical activity, smoking, seasonal weather changes and emotions. Specific asthma triggers vary between people. A trigger that aggravates one person's symptoms won't necessarily bother another person's asthma. Avoiding your triggers as much as possible is a key part of managing asthma.

Asthma attacks are more likely to occur when your asthma isn't well controlled. Note that asthma can change over time, so it's important to see your doctor as often as directed. This way, they can tweak your treatment plan if needed to keep your symptoms under control and reduce your risk of future attacks.

What does an asthma attack feel like?

Symptoms of an asthma attack can vary between people. Work with your health care provider to learn your early warning signs of an asthma attack. Asthma attack symptoms can include the following:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Chest tightness

Symptoms of an asthma attack can get in the way of your daily life. In fact, some people say their warning signs of an asthma attack include fatigue and not being able to tolerate exercise as much as usual.

The length of an asthma attack can also vary. The duration depends on what caused it and how long your airways have been inflamed. Mild attacks may only last a few minutes, whereas more serious episodes can last hours or even days. Note that severe asthma attacks may subside more quickly with appropriate treatment.

Asthma attack treatment

To stop an asthma attack, you must recognize your symptoms early and start treatment promptly. It's also important that you stay calm so you can follow your action plan. If you use the rescue inhaler more than two times a week, talk with your provider about changing or starting a daily medication. Severe attacks may require taking oral steroid medications as well.

Minor asthma attacks may stop when you follow your action plan. Severe asthma attacks may not respond to home treatments and may become life-threatening. Symptoms of a serious asthma attack can include severe wheezing, not being able to speak much due to shortness of breath, straining your chest muscles to breathe and low peak flow readings if you use a peak flow meter. If you have signs of a severe asthma attack that don't improve when you follow your action plan, such as using a rescue inhaler, seek medical help or call 9-1-1 right away.

Managing asthma involves keeping up with checkups, staying away from asthma attack triggers, recognizing the signs of an asthma attack and knowing what to do if your asthma worsens. If you have an asthma attack, following your action plan as directed by your doctor is a must.

Published on April 18, 2018

Sources:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/

https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/symptoms.html

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/management-of-acute-exacerbations-of-asthma-in-adults

https://acaai.org/asthma/symptoms/asthma-attack

https://www.aafa.org/page/asthma-symptoms.aspx

https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/asthma_qrg.pdf

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/asthsumm.pdf

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma-attack/symptoms-causes/syc-20354268

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