What Asthma Treatment Options Are There
You have options to help manage your asthma. Your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to control symptoms. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory medicines: These medicines reduce swelling and mucus production in your airways. They make it easier for air to enter and exit your lungs. Your healthcare provider may prescribe them to take every day to control or prevent your symptoms.
- Bronchodilators: These medicines relax the muscles around your airways. The relaxed muscles let the airways move air. They also let mucus move more easily through the airways. These medicines relieve your symptoms when they happen.
- Biologic therapies for asthma when symptoms persist despite being on proper inhaler therapy.
You can take asthma medicines in several different ways. You may breathe in the medicines using a metered-dose inhaler, nebulizer or other inhaler. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications that you swallow.
Management Of Acute Asthma Exacerbations
SUSAN M. POLLART, MD, MS REBEKAH M. COMPTON, MSN, FNP-C and KURTIS S. ELWARD, MD, MPH, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia
Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jul 1 84:40-47.
Patient information: See related handout on how to treat an asthma attack, written by the authors of this article.
In 2005, the prevalence of asthma in the United States was nearly 8 percent , and approximately 4 percent of Americans experienced an asthma attack.1,2 There have been many advances in medical therapy to prevent the worsening of asthma symptoms, including an improved understanding of asthma etiology, identification of risk factors for asthma exacerbations, and evidence supporting the benefits of written asthma action plans.
In persons older than two years with asthma, neither the injectable nor the intranasal influenza vaccine increases the likelihood of an asthma exacerbation in the period immediately following vaccination. However, one study of infants found an increase in wheezing and hospital admissions after intranasal influenza vaccination.7 Seasonal influenza vaccine does not reduce the risk of developing an asthma exacerbation. Influenza vaccination appears to improve asthma-related quality-of-life in children during influenza season.7
How Do You Stop An Asthma Attack Without An Inhaler
If you are diagnosed with asthma, you should make sure you have an inhaler with you at all times. However, if a worst case scenario occurs and you experience when you dont have a reliever inhaler with you, there are practical steps you can take to ease your symptoms.
- Stay as calm as you can find a way to reduce any anxiety, such as holding someones hand or playing music
- Sit upright this will help keep your airways open
- Breathe slowly and deeply slowing down your breathing can reduce the risk of hyperventilating
- If something appears to have triggered your asthma, such as breathing in cold air or being exposed to smoke, move away from the trigger
- Try breathing exercises the pursed lip breathing technique can help you deal with shortness of breath
- Have a drink containing caffeine there is some evidence to suggest that caffeine can help improve airway function for up to four hours.
Asthma can be a life-threatening condition, so at the very least, aim to keep a spare reliever inhaler in your handbag, locker at work or coat pocket.
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Symptoms After An Asthma Attack
How you feel after an asthma attack will depend on how severe the attack was and what triggered it.
If the attack was triggered by an irritant, such as cold weather, pollutants or allergens such as pollen, animal fur or dust, you should recover relatively quickly.
If your asthma attack was caused by an infection, such an upper airway infection, then it might take longer for you to recover. You may have symptoms such as fatigue and exhaustion after your asthma attack.
Do follow any recovery guidance given to you by a doctor or medical professional. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, take your medication and attend any necessary follow-up appointments.
If you havent seen your doctor or asthma nurse for a routine appointment recently, book one as soon as possible.
How Can You Tell If You Have Asthma
It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under age 5. Having a doctor check how well your lungs work and check for allergies can help you find out if you have asthma.
During a checkup, a doctor will ask if you cough a lot, especially at night. He or she will also ask whether your breathing problems are worse after physical activity or at certain times of year. The doctor will then ask about chest tightness, wheezing, and colds lasting more than 10 days. He or she will ask whether anyone in your family has or has had asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems. Finally, the doctor will ask questions about your home and whether you have missed school or work or have trouble doing certain things.
The doctor may also do a breathing test, called spirometry, to find out how well your lungs are working by testing how much air you can breathe out after taking a very deep breath before and after you use asthma medicine.
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Make Sure You Know When:
- you should start to take steroid tablets. These help you to get better more quickly, but its important not to use these too frequently, because of potential long-term side effects.
- you should start to take antibiotics. This will usually be when, as well as being more breathless despite taking reliever medication for some time, you produce more sputum than usual or it has changed colour.
Acute Asthma Attack Symptoms
An acute asthma attack is a medical emergency youll must seek immediate medical help and go to hospital.
Acute asthma attack symptoms to be aware of include:
- Rapid breathing that doesnt ease with use of a reliever inhaler
- Extreme shortness of breath being unable to inhale or exhale fully
- An inability to speak in full sentences
- Confusion or agitation
- Developing a blue tint on the face, lips or fingernails.
If you dont seek treatment for an acute asthma attack, your life could be in danger. Find out more about acute asthma by reading our guide to severe asthma.
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When To Seek Emergency Treatment
Some people wonder if you can die from an asthma attack. If its severe enough, you certainly can die. Generally, when experiencing an asthma attack, its best to remain calm and use your medications as prescribed.
For those rare instances when you experience an attack and dont have the necessary medication with you, stopping an attack is possible. Learning how to stop an asthma attack without an inhaler involves removing yourself immediately from triggers. If you cant completely remove yourself from the trigger, breathe through some cloth or a mask to filter the air. Sit upright as much as possible to allow your lungs to take in the most air. Sip a hot, caffeinated beverage to help open your airways.
Dont delay calling 911 if your asthma begins to feel completely out of control. Getting help quickly can mean the difference between life and death. Once you have had a severe asthma attack, you are at risk of having more. Seek immediate medical attention if you have the following symptoms:
Severe wheezing or breathlessness, especial at night or early in the morning
Inability to speak more than a few words at a time because of breathlessness
You strain your chest muscles to breathe
No improvement after using a rescue inhaler
Low peak flow readings
Recovering From A Bad Asthma Flare
A lot of attention is focused on what goes on during a severe asthma exacerbation, but very little about what occurs after. What a lot of people dont often realize, is that once the initial asthma crisis is over, the party has only just begun. Theres a perception that once you get past the acute phase of an asthma exacerbation, that your breathing rapidly returns to normal and everything is fine again. Well, that may be true in a very small percentage of asthmatics, but for most severe asthmatics like myself, the reality is much different. No matter how many of these severe exacerbations I go through, , its always the post hospital recovery period thats the most difficult for me.
When you suffer an asthma attack that is severe enough to warrant hospitalization, once that critical acute phase is over , theres also a recovery phase that you have to contend with. Though maybe not as scary or dramatic, can nevertheless make one feel just as miserable as the initial attack and can last 10 times as long!
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What Triggers Asthma Attacks
When you experience an asthma attack, your airways narrow and it gets more difficult to breathe. An asthma attack can come on slowly and gradually, for example, if your usual symptoms arent so well controlled or if youve not been using your preventer inhaler as regularly as you should be. If youve got an upper airway infection then this can also trigger an asthma attack.
Other factors that can trigger asthma attacks include a sudden change in the temperature and cold weather, environmental factors, allergens and even stress or certain foods and drinks.
Hows An Acute Exacerbation Of Asthma Diagnosed
If youve had an acute exacerbation before, youll probably recognize the symptoms. Your doctor will be able to make a quick diagnosis.
If its your first acute exacerbation, your doctor will need to know your medical history, particularly your history of asthma. To make a proper diagnosis, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and a test of your lung function.
There are several tests that may be used to see how well your lungs are working:
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What Is An Asthma Action Plan
Your healthcare provider will work with you to develop an asthma action plan. This plan tells you how and when to use your medicines. It also tells you what to do if your asthma gets worse and when to seek emergency care. Understand the plan and ask your healthcare provider about anything you dont understand.
Who Can Get Asthma
Anyone can develop asthma at any age. People with allergies or people exposed to tobacco smoke and secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma.
Statistics show women tend to have asthma more than men, and asthma affects Black Americans more frequently than other races.
When a child develops asthma, healthcare providers call it childhood asthma. If it develops later in life, its adult-onset asthma.
Children do not outgrow asthma. They may have fewer symptoms as they get older, but they could still have an asthma attack. Your childs healthcare provider can help you understand the risks.
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Advice For Friends And Family
It’s important that your friends and family know how to help in an emergency.
It can be useful to make copies of your personal asthma action plan and share it with others who may need to know what to do when you have an attack.
You can photocopy your existing plan, or you could download a blank personal asthma action plan from Asthma UK and fill it in for anyone who might need a copy.
Or you could take a photo of your action plan on your phone, so you can show or send it to others easily.
Page last reviewed: 19 April 2021 Next review due: 19 April 2024
What Should I Do If I Have A Severe Asthma Attack
A severe asthma attack needs immediate medical care. The first step is your rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler uses fast-acting medicines to open up your airways. Its different than your normal maintenance inhaler, which you use every day. You should only use the rescue inhaler in an emergency.
If your rescue inhaler doesnt help or you dont have it with you, go to the emergency department if you have:
- Anxiety or panic.
- Bluish fingernails, bluish lips or gray or whitish lips or gums .
- Chest pain or pressure.
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How To Avoid Asthma Triggers
If you know what your asthma triggers are, then where possible, its beneficial to try to avoid them.
If theres a particular allergen culprit you know of, then keeping your home clean and dust-free can help. For example, you could consider swapping carpets for wooden floors to reduce the amount of dust build-up or hiring a cleaner so youre not personally exposed to dust when cleaning.
It can be more difficult to avoid asthma triggers completely when youre at work, especially if your asthma is occupational and linked to your working environment. In an ideal world, you could simply change jobs to something more suitable for your health, but in reality this isnt always feasible.
Let your employer or the HR department know about your asthma. You should be able to discuss the options available for optimising your work environment to be more suitable to your needs.
Keeping on top of your asthma management plan, working alongside your doctor or asthma nurse and making sure you take your inhalers or other asthma medications should help to control your symptoms. Making practical lifestyle choices is important too, like eating healthily, exercising and not smoking.
It can also be beneficial to learn an asthma breathing technique. There are various breathing techniques that can help asthma and knowing how to breathe properly could help if something unexpectedly triggers an attack.
When To Seek Emergency Care For An Asthma Attack
Although some asthma attacks are mild and easily managed at home, severe cases should be taken very seriously and treated immediately by an emergency medical professional. Even more mild cases may need medical attention if the symptoms do not settle after a few minutes. If you notice the asthma sufferer is beginning to turn blue in the lips or nails or is becoming increasingly dizzy, take them to an emergency room near you as quickly as possible or call 911. Asthma medicine may need to be administered immediately.
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Does Asthma Get Worse Lying Down
The exact reason that asthma is worse during sleep are not known, but there are explanations that include increased exposure to allergens cooling of the airways being in a reclining position and hormone secretions that follow a circadian pattern. Sleep itself may even cause changes in bronchial function.
Vaping And Lung Damage
- Talk with your teen about the dangers of vaping.
- Vaping can cause severe lung damage. It can become permanent.
- Vaping can even cause death .
- Vaping tobacco also causes nicotine addiction.
- For these reasons, the legal age to purchase vaping products is 21 in the US.
- Encourage your teen to not start vaping or to give it up.
- Warning: home-made or street-purchased vaping solutions are the most dangerous.
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What Do I Do If I Have An Asthma Attack
If you or a loved one is having an asthma attack and the symptoms donât get better quickly after following the asthma action plan, follow the “red zone” or emergency instructions and contact your doctor or right away. You need urgent medical attention.
1. Give asthma first aid.
If the person doesn’t have an asthma plan:
- Sit them upright comfortably and loosen tight clothing.
- If the person has asthma medication, such as an inhaler, help them take it.
- If the person doesnât have an inhaler, use one from a first aid kit. Do not borrow someone elseâs. The medicine in it may be different than the needed rescue medicine. Also, using someone else’s inhaler has a slight risk of passing on an infection.
2. Use an inhaler with a spacer, if possible.
- Remove the cap and shake the inhaler well.
- Insert the inhaler into the spacer.
- Have the person breathe out completely and put their mouth tightly around the spacer mouthpiece.
- Press the inhaler once to deliver a puff.
- Have the person breathe in slowly through their mouth and hold their breath for 10 seconds.
- Give a total of four puffs, waiting about a minute between each puff.
3. Use an inhaler without a spacer, if necessary.
4. Continue using the inhaler if breathing is still a problem.
5. Monitor the person until help arrives.
- Do not mistake drowsiness as a sign of improvement it could mean asthma is getting worse.
- Do not assume that the personâs asthma is improving if you no longer hear wheezing.
6. Follow up.
How Long Does Asthmatic Bronchitis Last
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Eat To Beat Inflammation
No particular diet can prevent asthma symptoms, but eating healthy foods can help you feel better overall. If youre overweight, losing a few pounds will give your lungs more room to expand.
At mealtimes, load up on fruits and vegetables. Plant-based foods are high in antioxidants like beta carotene and vitamins A and E, which may help combat inflammation in the lungs.
Also increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish like salmon and tuna, as well as in nuts and seeds. There is some evidence these foods might help cut down on asthma symptoms.
If you have sensitivities or allergies to particular foods, try to avoid them. Allergic reactions to food can trigger asthma symptoms.