Asthma Attack = A Symphony In Your Chest
Whenever he listened with his stethoscope, my doctor would always tell me that it sounded like a miniature symphony was playing in my chest.
At the time I giggled at the funny metaphor, but its actually quite accurate.
As your airways constrict and fill with mucus, only tiny passages are left for the air to travel through. This makes for a very noisy, whistle-y breathing experience.
So if you think you might be having an asthmatic episode, try blocking your ears with your fingers and taking a deep slow breath. Do you hear that symphony?
And if its your child or other loved one and youre trying to assess what the problem is, try putting your ear to their chest while they try to breathe.
If you hear the little whistles and wheezes that are synonymous with an asthma attack its time to act.
How Is Asthma Classified
Doctors rank how bad asthma is by its symptoms:
Your asthma may be getting worse if:
- You have symptoms more often and they interfere more with your daily life.
- You have a hard time breathing. You can measure this with a device called a peak flow meter.
- You need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often.
Care Advice For Asthma Attack
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What Is The Treatment For Asthma
Asthma symptoms can be treated with a variety of prescription medications that provide quick relief as well as long term control. Lifestyle changes can also reduce symptoms, especially if asthma is triggered by allergies to substances in the environment or to certain foods . Regular vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia are strongly recommended for older adults with asthma.
Keep in mind . . . Short-term use of oral steroids are helpful to treat acute asthma symptoms, or flare ups however, long-term use of oral steroids is usually avoided in older asthma patients. Over time, oral steroids can cause severe side effects, such as weakening of bones, ulcers, or high blood pressure.
People with asthma should develop a written asthma management plan with their physician. An asthma management plan outlines specific treatment and lifestyle practices, including what to do when asthma symptoms flare up or become out of control.
Older asthma patients should be sure to ask their physician about any aspect of their asthma treatment that they do not understand. Keeping the physician informed about how well treatment is working is important. Patients need to tell their physician if they are having trouble remembering to take their medications, or if they are having difficulty using devices such as an inhaler.
What Are Common Side Effects With Asthma Medications
Inhaled asthma medications are usually well-tolerated with few side effects when used as prescribed however, there are a few precautions.
- Inhaled corticosteroids can cause oral thrush, a fungal infection of the mouth.
- Rinsing your mouth with water after using the inhaler or using a spacer device might help prevent thrush.
- Contact your doctor if you notice white patches in your mouth, which could be the beginning of a thrush infection.
Inhaled quick-acting medicines like albuterol can also cause side effects like: shakiness, nervousness, difficulty sleeping or a fast heartbeat, among others.
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Can Asthma Be Prevented
Asthma cant be prevented entirely, but there are some practical ways to reduce the risk of an asthma attack and live well with asthma.
- Get vaccinated for influenza: flu and other respiratory viruses are common triggers for asthma.
- Manage any allergies: asthma and allergies are closely linked, so treating allergic rhinitis and avoiding or managing any allergy triggers will help with your asthma.
- Live smoke-free: quit smoking if you smoke, and avoid any second-hand smoke .
- Eat well: a balanced diet helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese makes asthma harder to manage.
- Care for yourself: mental health and asthma are linked, so let a trusted friend or your doctor know if you have been feeling sad or anxious, or dont enjoy things as much as before.
- See your doctor regularly: asthma needs to be regularly assessed and managed, and your medication needs may change over time. Ensure your asthma action plan is up to date by checking in with your doctor regularly.
Managing Your Asthma Well In Later Life
Continue to have regular asthma reviews
Whether youve had asthma all your life or youve been diagnosed with it as an older adult, an asthma review helps you stay on top of any changes in your symptoms.
You can make sure your asthma action plan is up to date, review your asthma medicines, and check youre taking the lowest dose possible to stay well and avoid side effects.
Track your symptoms
Keeping track of your symptoms makes it easier to spot any changes. Write down your symptoms in a diary, notebook, or on your phone and take it along to your next appointment.
Remember to make a note of anything you were doing that day or any triggers you came across â you may notice youre sensitive to new things that were not a problem before.
Dont ignore symptoms like breathlessness, says Dr Andy. Its easy to think that feeling a bit more breathless is just another sign that youre not as fit as you used to be.
But if youre feeling out of breath climbing stairs or walking uphill, see your GP to get it checked out. Breathlessness can be a sign that your asthma is not well controlled. It could also be a sign of another health condition.
Act quickly if symptoms get worse
To cut your risk of an asthma attack, take action as soon as you notice symptoms getting worse. As we get older, asthma attacks can be more severe and take longer to recover from.
Check your inhaler technique
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Asthma Attack = Heavy Chest
The main sensation I feel when as asthma attack begins to occur is a feeling of weight on the chest. Each breath takes extra effort.
And each breath feels like its not enough, because each breath is not getting enough oxygen to the blood stream. This is true even when I take what feels like a deep breath its just never deep enough.
For me, asthma attacks almost feel like when youve stuffed yourself on a big meal, and you feel overfull and have acid reflux.
So if you dont have asthma, imagine youve just eaten the biggest, most acidic meal of your life. Youve never felt so full. And youre sitting on your couch breathing heavy. Youve got a general sense of discomfort and burning in your upper chest area and throat.
And no matter which way you adjust your body, whether you sit up or sit down or move around or lie down the awful feelings persist.
Thats what an asthma attack feels like. Except with indigestion, you just have to wait for the food to digest. For asthmatics, its not so easy.
With uncontrolled asthma, an asthma attack will likely get worse and worse until its treated with medicine.
I talk about how its important for asthmatics to try to use their rescue inhaler less during tough moments, but a true asthma attack will need intervention.
This is why its crucial for people with asthma to always keep their rescue inhaler close by.
Even if you manage your asthma well like I do , you never know when you might need it.
What Are The Signs That The Person Has Died
- The person is no longer breathing and doesnt have a pulse.
- Their eyes dont move or blink, and the pupils are dilated . The eyelids may be slightly open.
- The jaw is relaxed and the mouth is slightly open.
- The body releases the bowel and bladder contents.
- The person doesnt respond to being touched or spoken to.
- The persons skin is very pale and cool to the touch.
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Minimising Your Risk Of An Attack
It may seem obvious, but the best way to decrease your chance of an asthma attack is to use your medicines if you start having symptoms.
âIf you no longer take medicines because you have âgrown outâ of asthma, but notice symptoms such as breathlessness, coughing at night, a tight chest or wheezing flaring up, make sure you see your doctor to discuss whether you might need to go back on asthma medicines again,â urges Whittamore.
âYour preventer inhaler reduces the inflammation in your sensitive airways over time so you are less likely to react if you come into contact with an asthma trigger, reducing your chance of having an asthma attack or flare-up,â he explains.
Common asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, a tight chest and wheezing. All can put you at risk of a life-threatening asthma attack.
Depending on the severity of your asthma, treatment usually goes as follows:
âThe most basic treatment calls for a reliever inhaler to be used as symptoms appear. When the reliever inhaler is used more than twice a week, it is recommended to move the treatment to step two,â says Antalffy.
âStep two calls for a preventer inhaler, usually used twice a day regardless of symptoms, in addition to the reliever inhaler on standby.â
If your asthma is still poorly controlled after these measures, sometimes a third drug will be prescribed alongside inhalers.
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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Can You Really Grow Out Of Asthma
âIf you have asthma your airways are inflamed and sensitive to triggers such as cold air, pollution, cold and flu viruses or allergies that set off your asthma symptoms ,â says Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK.
âFor some children diagnosed with asthma, the condition might improve or disappear completely as they get older but for many people, asthma is a lifelong condition,â he adds.
However, it may not always be asthma causing the problem. Asthma-like symptoms can be down to allergies, which is why it may appear that a child has outgrown their asthma.
âTrue asthma does not go away, just as diabetes or hypertension donât go away,â states Dr Thomas Antalffy, inventor of the Smart Peak Flow device.
If you feel your asthma symptoms are relieved, it may simply be lying dormant so itâs important to be vigilant.
âThere may be periods where your symptoms do not affect your day-to-day life and these periods could last years or even decades. However, asthma symptoms can be triggered again by a change in circumstances, such as a new workplace, stress, or hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause,â says Whittamore.
âIf youâre taking your asthma medicines as prescribed and feeling well, this is a sign that they are working,â so donât assume you no longer need treatment, he warns.
If symptoms do come back, itâs vital that you donât ignore them and that you speak with your GP.
Can you really âgrow outâ of asthma?
Speak Up If You Need Help
If you have a child with asthma, encourage them to speak up if they feel like they are on the verge of having an asthma attack.
If they are home, they need to tell whomever is there to help them, says Dr. Luis Torero, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist with Northwestern Medicines Regional Medical Group. If they are at school, the same thing. They shouldnt be shy.
And if youre the one with asthma, the same advice applies. If you need help, ask.
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Can Asthma Attacks Be Prevented
While asthma attacks may not always be able to be prevented, asthma can be managed.
- Avoiding triggers as much as possible is the best way to prevent asthma attacks .
- Exposure to pets when children are very young may lower the risk of developing asthma. Children who live with two or more pets are less likely to react to allergens. If, however, an individual is already allergic to pets, it may be important to avoid exposure to that particular trigger.
- Taking medications as directed is essential.
- People who have outdoor allergies should avoid outside activities when the pollen count or pollution index is high.
- For exercise-induced asthma, several things can help. Spending time warming up before starting strenuous activity and gradually cooling down afterward, avoiding activity during a respiratory tract infection, and avoiding exertion in extremely cold weather may help prevent an asthma attack.
- Yoga may help manage asthma. Sahaja yoga is a type of meditation based on yoga principles that was found to be somewhat effective in managing moderate to severe asthma. Other forms of relaxation training, mediation, and stress reduction may also be of benefit.
Am I Having An Asthma Attack
Last reviewed: Medically reviewed
An asthma attack has been described as feeling like a huge weight is on your chest, with that weight being so heavy that you struggle to draw breath.
The attack happens when the symptoms of asthma a condition that inflames the airways to the lungs get worse, leading to problems breathing.
Asthma is common, affecting more than 339 million people globally, according to the World Health Organization, and around half of those may experience at least 1 attack in a year. In the UK, an asthma attack occurs every 10 seconds.
Though attacks may be quite common among people with asthma, knowing how to recognise the signs of an attack and understanding why they happen can help you to manage them better and even prevent one.
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Can Asthma Reappear In Adults After Disappearing Years Ago
Asthma is usually diagnosed in childhood. In many patients however, the symptoms will disappear or are significantly reduced after puberty. After age 20, symptoms may begin to reappear.
Researchers have tracked this tendency for reappearing asthma and found that people with childhood asthma tend to experience reappearing symptoms through their 30s and 40s at various levels of severity.
Regardless of whether your asthma is active, you should continue to avoid your known triggers and keep your rescue medications or prescriptions up-to-date and handy in case you need them.
What Are The Triggers
There are many different triggers for asthma attacks. Many asthmatics are well aware of their trigger points. However, they may not always be able to avoid them.
Pollen and pollution are increasingly responsible for triggering asthma. Many people find a worsening of their symptoms in Spring, combined with the onset of hay fever. There are many species of grasses, trees and weeds in the UK. Some people are particularly sensitive to some and do not react at all to others. There is also huge variation around the country as to when pollen is released. People can begin to suffer from hay fever as early as January. About 20% of people with hay fever are allergic to birch tree pollen and this, as well as oak and plane trees, are responsible for many unpleasant symptoms and can exacerbate asthma.
Grass pollens are the most common cause of hay fever and usually affect people in May, June and July.
Weed pollens usually release pollen from early spring to early autumn.
If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, speak to your GP or asthma nurse.
The Met Office issues really useful pollen advice.
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Often people find it particularly difficult to breathe out and have an increase in sticky mucus and phlegm
Its important to note that not everyone will get all of these symptoms.
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