An asthma attack occurs when a person is exposed to an asthma trigger or an allergen. It happens when there is an acute exacerbation of common symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and different difficulties breathing. The usual triggers that are responsible for this can be very varied, ranging from pollen and dust mites to intense emotions, weather conditions or physical activity.

What’s on this page?

In asthmatics, body’s immune system reacts harshly and dramatically to the presence of allergens which are perceived as threats to the organism which our biological defences then try to combat by creating an inflammatory response within the airways. This is the physiological root cause of asthma attacks.

However, asthma attacks don’t always happen as soon as a trigger is encountered – sometimes, it can take several hours or even days after the exposure until the usual symptoms manifest.

How to know if you’re experiencing an asthma attack?

Asthma attacks are generally easy to recognize. They include symptoms such as:

  • Extreme breathing difficulties that make it difficult to engage in everyday activities
  • Lack of usual response to the use of reliever inhaler
  • Exacerbation of common asthma symptoms (shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, wheezing)
  • Accelerating breathing rhythm
  • Sense of lack of air
  • Stomach ache (in some, usually younger asthmatics)

What should I do during an asthma attack?

If you are experiencing an asthma attack it is important to try and stay calm – of course, this is easier said than done. Acute exacerbation of symptoms is very uncomfortable and in those affected by more severe sub-types of asthma, they can be very dangerous, even potentially fatal. But, there are some things you can and should do – from using your reliever inhaler to ensuring proper medical attention if needed. As a general guideline, be sure to:

  • Sit down and try to calm down. Do not try to lie down
  • Take a puff from your reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds, depending on the maximum dose of your inhaler of choice
  • If you inhaler isn’t effective in mitigating the symptoms, call the emergency service
  • If the ambulance won’t be there within 10 to 15 minutes, repeat the use of your inhaler

Even if you manage to go through an attack on yourself, without medical assistance, it is still advisable to make an urgent appointment with your doctor in order to discuss how you could better prevent subsequent attacks from occurring.

Are there any early warning signs of an asthma attack?

For some, an asthma attack can happen quite suddenly, without any prior warning, while other asthmatics may learn to recognize various early warning signs over the course of their treatment. If you are familiar with your early symptoms, you will have a significant advantage – additional time to act and possibly prevent experiencing a fully-fledged asthma attack.

Exacerbations of asthma symptoms can occur at any time of the day, including after going to sleep. Night time asthma symptoms are, according to some medical experts, relatively reliable indications that an asthma attack will follow soon. Aside from this, some claim that there are other signs that you can notice prior to exacerbation:

  • Increased need to use your reliever inhaler
  • Increased frequency of coughing, especially during the night
  • Losing your breath more easily or more often than usual
  • General weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Decrease in peak flow readings
  • Mood changes, especially becoming easily irritated and upset

If you experience any of these symptoms, do not ignore them! Even if they don’t directly lead to an immediate asthma attack, they can indicate that your condition isn’t managed as well as it should. Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss the worsening of symptoms and review your medications and personal asthma action plan.

How can I prevent an asthma attack?

There are several steps you can take in order to reduce the chances of experiencing an asthma attacks. The methods described below should be applicable to all asthmatics, no matter how severe their condition is.

  • Go to regular check-ups at your doctor’s office
  • Be sure to take medication as prescribed
  • Ensure that you are using your inhaler correctly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid your known triggers as much as possible
  • Avoid tobacco smoke and get help with quitting smoking if you’re a smoker yourself
  • Go to regular vaccinations
  • Keep track of your asthma symptoms – when do they occur, do they follow certain activities?
  • Stick to your personal asthma action plan

Asthma attacks are frightening occurrences, but by staying calm, acting timely and taking the necessary precautions, you can avoid them and thus prevent complications and potentially fatal consequences. Every day, roughly three deaths are caused by poorly managed asthma resulting in an asthma attack. In order to prevent these grim consequences, do not take your condition and treatment lightly. There are many ways to prevent any complications.

Modern asthma medications such as Ventolin or Seretide have proven to be exceptionally successful in managing this condition. By using them properly and taking certain precautions you will significantly reduce chances of experiencing an asthma attack. The efficiency of contemporary asthma managing methods and techniques is exactly what allows most asthmatics to enjoy a healthy and perfectly normal life.