Asthma Attack Overview
An asthma attack occurs when the symptoms of asthma worsen due to tightening of the muscles around the airways.
During an asthma attack, the lining of the airways swells up, become inflamed and start producing thicker mucus than normal making the airways to shrink. Less air gets in and out of the lungs and the thick mucus that is produced clogs the airways even more.
These factors cause and highlight the symptoms of asthma such as coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and shortness of breath.
Symptoms of an asthma attack
The symptoms of an asthma attack are given below:
- Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
- Continuous coughing
- Fast breathing
- Chest tightness or severe pressure on the chest
- Retractions (tightened neck and chest muscles)
- Difficulty speaking
- Anxiety and discomfort
- Pale and sweaty face
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Reliever inhaler isn’t helping
- Worsening asthma symptoms despite use of your medications
Types of asthma attack
There can be two types of an asthma attack- mild asthma attacks and severe asthma attacks.
Mild asthma attacks
These attacks are more common and they last for only a few minutes. They can be resolved spontaneously using some inhalers.
Severe asthma attacks
Severe asthma attacks are less common comparatively. These attacks last longer like from hours to days and require immediate medical help.
It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms of an asthma attack so that the severe episodes can be prevented and asthma can be kept under control.
What Causes an Asthma Attack?
Triggers of asthma attack are the real culprits of an asthma episode. Some of the triggers are:
- Tobacco smoke
- Dust mites
- Outdoor air pollution
- Strong odors such as perfume
- Cockroach allergen
- Smoke from burning wood or grass
- Certain illnesses (like an upper respiratory infection)
Whenever the patient is exposed to these triggers, an attack may happen. Therefore the knowledge of the triggers and their prevention methods should be well known to the patient. But if the triggers cannot be avoided then knowledge about handling the attack is really important to every person affected by asthma.
What to do in an asthma attack
During an asthma attack the patient needs to do the following:
- Sit up straight and don’t lie down (because it can constrict the breathing process)
- Try to stay calm
- Take one puff of the reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds, extending to a maximum of 10 puffs
- If the inhaler is not relieving the situation or no improvement is seen after 10 puffs, then call for an ambulance
- If the ambulance is taking time to arrive then start taking puffs again
What to do if patient is not having an inhaler during the attack
It can be possible that the patient may not be carrying his inhaler while he experiences the asthma episode. In such a case, following steps should be taken:
- Stop everything and sit upright. Avoid bending or lying down.
- Take long and deep breaths (it helps to slow down the breathing).
- Breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth.
- Stay calm (it prevents further tightening of the chest muscles and makes breathing easier)
- Get away from the trigger as soon as possible and try to go to an air-conditioned environment or a place with fresh and clean air.
- Take a hot caffeinated beverage like coffee (it helps to open up the airways slightly, providing some relief)
- Seek immediate medical attention if the wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulty do not decrease after a period of rest.
After an asthma attack
The patient should be in continuous touch with his doctor after the asthma attack. Following things can be done:
- Visit the doctor within 48 hours of leaving hospital.
- Visit the doctor within 24 hours in case hospital treatment was not needed after the attack.
- Discuss with the doctor on how the risk of future attacks can be reduced.
- Talk to the doctor about any changes that are to be made in medicines, their dose and timings.
Preventing Asthma Attacks
There are lots of things that can be done in order to reduce the risk of an asthma attack:
- Take the medicines as prescribed and on time.
- Follow a written asthma action plan and accordingly plan the daily activities.
- A regular visit to the doctor to have a checkup.
- Take the help of the doctor to know how to use the inhaler correctly.
- Avoid the triggers as much as possible.
- Monitor asthma symptoms on a regular basis to know if the symptoms are getting worse.
- Avoid smoking.
- Have a control on the weight. If overweight, ask the doctor on how to reduce the weight.
- Have regular influenza and pneumonia vaccinations.
- Identify and treat attacks early.
- Reduce stress.
- Always keep quick-relief asthma medicines readily available.