An asthma attack can lead to wheezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness. Mild asthma attacks can be treated with asthma medication, such as an inhaler. However, anyone with severe asthma attack symptoms will need immediate medical help.
An asthma attack occurs when the muscles around the airways contract, which narrows the airways. This causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, wheezing, and general difficulty in breathing. Certain triggers, such as allergens, irritants in the air or smoke, can cause an asthma attack.
Here’s how to recognize the signs of an asthma attack, what to do during an asthma attack, and when to seek medical help.
Symptoms of an asthma attack
Symptoms of an asthma attack can vary depending on the severity of the attack. A mild asthma attack can last for a few minutes, while a severe asthma attack can last for hours or even days.
Warning signs of an upcoming asthma attack may include:
– a cough that gets worse
– a feeling of shortness of breath, especially if the person wakes up from sleep
– reduced tolerance to physical exercise.
Signs that a person is already having an asthma attack may include:
– a rattling noise in the chest
– a feeling of tightness in the chest, or the feeling that someone is sitting on the chest
– acceleration of breathing
– difficulty taking a full breath
– difficulty speaking
The signs of a severe asthma attack are:
– rapid breathing, resulting in “sucking in” of the skin around the chest or between the rib cage when inhaling
– change in color of the skin around the eyes, lips, fingertips or nail beds, which may appear gray or white on dark skin and bluish or purple on light skin
– rapid movement of the nostrils
– deep and rapid movement in and out of the ribs or stomach
– Swollen chest, which does not deflate on exhalation.
– in infants with asthma, lack of reaction or recognition from parents or caregivers.
What to do in case of an asthma attack?
If a person is having a mild asthma attack, they can treat it with asthma medicine, such as a fast-acting inhaler. Some mild asthma attacks may even go away on their own. It is important for people with asthma to discuss an asthma action plan with their healthcare team. It is a plan that guides people on how to treat their asthma, based on the symptoms they are experiencing, and what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
A person will need to carry a rescue inhaler, which may contain asthma medication to relax the muscles around the airways. These medications include beta-2 agonists and fast-acting, short-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators.
A person may first try to cope with an asthma attack as follows:
– keep calm
– sit upright
– use fast-acting medication, usually with a blue inhaler, and follow your asthma action plan
– call emergency services if symptoms worsen or do not improve with medication.
In the event of a severe asthma attack, it is essential to seek medical help or call the emergency services immediately. While waiting for help, you must continue to take your inhaler according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
After an asthma attack, whether medical help was needed or not, the following steps are important:
– make an immediate follow-up appointment with a doctor, who will need to perform a checkup and review medications and asthma action plan
– continue to take the asthma medication exactly as prescribed
– take the rest of the day to rest and recuperate, as an asthma attack can be physically and emotionally draining for many people.
When to ask for help
A doctor should be contacted immediately if a person:
– feels dizzy, faint, or faint
– she has trouble doing a daily task, such as cooking, cleaning or taking out the trash
– she has a persistent cough
– her breathing is wheezing on inspiration or expiration or if she notices changes in her normal breathing pattern
– wheezing that gets worse after the asthma medicine has had time to work, usually about 15 minutes for fast-acting medicines.
Anyone with any of the following symptoms needs emergency medical help:
– lips or nails become bluish, grayish or whitish
– the nostrils widen during inspiration
– the skin stretches between the ribs or at the base of the throat during inspiration
– respiratory rate reaching 30 or more breaths per minute
– difficulty speaking or walking at the usual pace
Good asthma control can help prevent most cases of severe asthma attacks. Mild asthma attacks can resolve on their own or with the help of a quick-reliever inhaler. Prompt treatment can help prevent an asthma attack from becoming an emergency and shorten and stop the attack.