What To Do If You Have An Asthma Attack
If you think youre having an asthma attack, you should:
Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency.
Try to take the details of your medicines with you to hospital if possible.
If your symptoms improve and you do not need to call 999, get an urgent same-day appointment to see a GP or asthma nurse.
This advice is not for people on SMART or MART treatment. If this applies to you, ask a GP or asthma nurse what to do if you have an asthma attack.
Contact Doctor During Office Hours
- Don’t have written asthma action plan from your doctor
- Use an inhaler, but don’t have a spacer
- Miss more than 1 day of school per month for asthma
- Asthma limits exercise or sports
- Asthma attacks wake child up from sleep
- Use more than 1 inhaler per month
- No asthma check-up in more than 1 year
- You have other questions or concerns
Medication Keeps My Asthma Attacks At Bay
15 years ago I had been ill with pneumonia and it left me with a long-term cough. One warm summer evening I was walking with my friend when suddenly I felt like I couldnt breathe. The feeling of suffocating was so strong that I had to stop and sit down on a bench. My friend wanted to call an ambulance, but I asked her to wait. After calming down and resting a little, I felt better and she was able to walk me back home.
Still, the heavy feeling in my chest only passed after I took a hot shower at home. The next morning, I visited my doctor and I was asked to track down my peak flow measurements. The diagnosis was clear: I had asthma.
I have learned to recognise the first signs of an attack. Normally I start wheezing after exercising. But a couple of times I have woken up in the night feeling I cant breathe. Its always such a scary experience. Thats why I normally keep my rescue inhaler next to me on my nightstand. I also carry another one in my golf bag when I am out playing. These days I rarely need them because my asthma is well managed with regular preventive medication. Overall, asthma doesnt much affect my daily life even though I exercise and play golf a lot. Only if I get a cold or a flu, my symptoms seem to become worse and it takes a while to get better. Thats why during the flu season, I double my medication and take a flu vaccination as my doctor has advised.
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Asthma Triggers Symptoms & Warning Signs
The two main types of asthma triggers are irritants, which bother airways, and allergens, which cause reactions such as watery eyes, sneezing or a runny nose.
Asthma triggers are specific to each person living with asthma. People living with asthma need to know what triggers their own asthma and how to avoid those triggers. Some common triggers include:
|Animals with fur and feathers|
|Extreme hot or cold weather||Mold|
|changes in breathing patterns||Stress|
Learning which irritants and allergens trigger your asthma will help you avoid those triggers and manage your asthma. Although its not possible for you to control certain triggers, like pollen levels, there are many ways to make your home trigger-free for easier breathing.
Asthma symptoms also vary for each person. Common symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Most people with asthma feel early warning signs that their asthma is acting up. These signs let you know something is wrong before your asthma gets worse. Early warning signs include:
- Breathing changes
It is important to know your asthma triggers, symptoms and warning signs so you can use medication promptly and appropriately.
Whats It Like Living With Asthma
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In her post What Does An Asthma Attack Feel Like?, Theresa, a fellow asthmatic and asthma writer, explains and quite well I must add what its like having an asthma attack. In this post, I would like to make an attempt at articulating what its like living day after day with a chronic disease like asthma.
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Allergies Trigger My Asthma Symptoms
I have allergic asthma that mostly causes asthma symptoms during the allergy season in the spring. I normally have a couple of asthma attacks a year. I have sometimes had asthma attacks during the night as well or if I have spent time in a place full of dust or mold. Besides pollen allergy, I have several food allergies, too.
When I get an asthma attack, first I feel my throat tighten and my breathing becomes difficult. Then comes the panic.
I think that often my asthma and allergies are mixed and sometimes its hard to tell whether my symptoms are purely caused by asthma or more by a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis normally means a need for calling an ambulance. I also carry an Epipen with me.
Once I was having a breakfast at a hotel when I started to cough a lot. I felt that I couldnt breathe because my throat was swelling up. Even the inhaler didnt seem to help much because I couldnt inhale enough. It was probably an allergic reaction that led to an asthma attack. It took several hours to recover after it.
I am mindful of my asthma triggers but dont let the asthma itself limit my life. Normally the reliever inhaler comes to the rescue and makes me feel better. I tend to panic easily, so I try to stay calm and remember that the attacks always pass even though at that moment it can feel terrifying.
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Why Does My Asthma Act Up At Night
Asthma can get worse at night. If you have symptoms at night, it’s called nighttime asthma. This is often a sign of uncontrolled asthma. It probably has to do with natural body rhythms and changes in your body’s hormones. With the right asthma management and treatment, you should be able to sleep through the night.
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What Kind Of Physician Treats Adult Onset Asthma
Many older patients are treated for asthma by their internist or family physician however, if your asthma symptoms are not under control within three to six months, or if you have severe persistent asthma, or if you are having asthma episodes that need emergency treatment, it may be time to see an asthma specialist. Allergists/Immunologists or pulmonologists are specialists who treat asthma. Those who have completed training in those specialties are usually called board-certified or board-eligible.
Know The Symptoms Of An Asthma Attack
An asthma attack is the episode in which bands of muscle surrounding the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called bronchospasm. During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed and the cells lining the airways produce more and thicker mucus than normal.
All of these factors — bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production — cause symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty performing normal daily activities. Other symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
- Coughing that won’t stop
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Pale, sweaty face
- Blue lips or fingernails
The severity of an asthma attack can escalate rapidly, so it’s important to treat these asthma symptoms immediately once you recognize them.
Without immediate treatment, such as with your asthma inhaler or bronchodilator, your breathing will become more labored. If you use a peak flow meter at this time, the reading will probably be less than 50%. Many asthma action plans suggest interventions starting at 80% of normal.
As your lungs continue to tighten, you will be unable to use the peak flow meter at all. Gradually, your lungs will tighten so there is not enough air movement to produce wheezing. You need to be transported to a hospital immediately. Unfortunately, some people interpret the disappearance of wheezing as a sign of improvement and fail to get prompt emergency care.
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How Do I Know If My Asthma Is Not Well
A good way to know if your asthma is not well-controlled is by answering these questions:
- Do you have asthma symptoms more than two times a week?
- Do you take your quick-relief medicine more than two times a week?
- Do you wake up from asthma more than two times a month?
- Do you use oral corticosteroids more than two times a year?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, talk with your doctor.
If your asthma is not well-controlled, your daily activities may be limited. You may miss work or school. You may increase your chances of having complications from a respiratory infection. And you may be at greater risk for going to the emergency room, staying in the hospital, or even dying from asthma.
How Asthma Is Treated
While there is no cure for asthma, there are a number of treatments that can help control the condition.
Treatment is based on two important goals, which are:
- relieving symptoms
- preventing future symptoms and attacks
For most people, this will involve the occasional or, more commonly, daily use of medications, usually taken using an inhaler. However, identifying and avoiding possible triggers is also important.
You should have a personal asthma action plan agreed with your doctor or nurse that includes information about the medicines you need to take, how to recognise when your symptoms are getting worse, and what steps to take when they do so.
These symptoms are often worse at night and early in the morning, particularly if the condition is not well controlled. They may also develop or become worse in response to a certain trigger, such as exercise or exposure to an allergen.
Read our page on the causes of asthma for more information about potential triggers.
Speak to your GP if you think you or your child may have asthma. You should also talk to your doctor or asthma nurse if you have been diagnosed with asthma and you are finding it difficult to control the symptoms.
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When To See A Specialist About Your Asthma
Asthma is not always easy to diagnose, Fineman says, but you should see your doctor if youre having repeated episodes of wheezing and coughing or shortness of breath. If you’re diagnosed with the condition, work with your doctor to develop an asthma management and action plan.
Although your primary care doctor may be able to diagnose and treat your asthma, if your symptoms dont respond to a first-line therapy of inhaled corticosteroids and short-acting bronchodilators, Asciuto recommends that you see a lung specialist or allergy and asthma specialist.
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.
What Should I Do If I Have A Severe Asthma Attack
If you have a severe asthma attack, you need to get immediate medical care.
The first thing you should do is use your rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler uses fast-acting medicines to open up your airways. Its different than a maintenance inhaler, which you use every day. You should use the rescue inhaler when symptoms are bothering you and you can use it more frequently if your flare is severe.
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.
- Very quick or rapid breathing.
Why Is My Asthma Worse At Night
Asthma that gets worse at night is sometimes called nighttime asthma or nocturnal asthma. There are no definite reasons that this happens, but there are some educated guesses. These include:
- The way you sleep: Sleeping on your back can result in mucus dripping into your throat or acid reflux coming back up from your stomach. Also, sleeping on your back puts pressure on your chest and lungs, which makes breathing more difficult. However, lying face down or on your side can put pressure on your lungs.
- Triggers in your bedroom and triggers that happen in the evening: You may find your blankets, sheets and pillows have dust mites, mold or pet hair on them. If youve been outside in the early evening, you may have brought pollen in with you.
- Medication side effects: Some drugs that treat asthma, such as steroids and montelukast, can affect your sleep.
- Air thats too hot or too cold: Hot air can cause airways to narrow when you breathe in. Cold air is an asthma trigger for some people.
- Lung function changes: Lung function lessens at night as a natural process.
- Asthma is poorly controlled during the day: Symptoms that arent controlled during the day wont be better at night. Its important to work with your provider to make sure your asthma symptoms are controlled both day and night. Treating nighttime symptoms is very important. Serious asthma attacks, and sometimes deaths, can happen at night.
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Know The Early Symptoms Of Asthma
Early warning signs are changes that happen just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack. These signs may start before the well-known symptoms of asthma and are the earliest signs that your asthma is worsening.
In general, these signs are not severe enough to stop you from going about your daily activities. But by recognizing these signs, you can stop an asthma attack or prevent one from getting worse. Early warning signs of an asthma attack include:
- Frequent cough, especially at night
- Losing your breath easily or shortness of breath
- Feeling very tired or weak when exercising
If you have these warning signs, adjust your medication, as described in your asthma action plan.
When To See A Doctor:
Most people dont go to the doctor for a little coughing or mild allergies, but asthma isnt always easy to diagnose, and if you think you might have it, its important to find out. If you find yourself having repeated periods of breathlessness, coughing, or wheezing, you should speak with your doctor. This is especially true if theres no apparent reason for these episodes, or if seemingly minor activities trigger them.
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose your asthma, but you may be referred to a lung or asthma specialist for more specific treatment. If youre worried about your lung health, you may find this article about checking your lung health at home helpful.
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How Is Asthma Treated
There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed to prevent flare-ups. Asthma treatment involves two important things: avoiding triggers and taking medicine.
There are many ways to avoid triggers. After your child’s triggers are identified, the doctor will work with you to come up with a plan to avoid them.
For example, if pet dander or mold in your home trigger your child’s asthma symptoms, you can make your home asthma-safe by changing the linens often, vacuuming regularly, and keeping the family pet out of your child’s bedroom. If outdoor allergies are a problem, your child should avoid the outdoors on days when pollen counts are high.
If exercise is a trigger, the doctor may prescribe a medicine for your child to take before physical activity to prevent airways from tightening up. Doctors help people with exercise-induced asthma manage physical activity, not avoid it. Exercise can help people stay healthier overall .
Getting a yearly flu shot is also important, as illnesses like the flu can trigger asthma flare-ups.
Most asthma medicines are breathed directly into the lungs , but some are pills or liquids. There are two types of asthma medicines:
Quick-relief medicines act fast to open up tight airways. They can be used as needed during a flare-up. Quick-relief medicines act fast, but their effect doesn’t last long. These kinds of medicines are also called “fast-acting” or “rescue” medicines.
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.
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