People with asthma usually deal with their own attacks by using a blue reliever inhaler at the first sign of an attack.
In an asthma attack, the muscles of the air passages in the lungs go into spasm. During an asthma attack, also called an asthma exacerbation, your airways become swollen and inflamed. The muscles around the airways contract, causing your breathing (bronchial) tubes to narrow.
Asthma attacks can be frightening and dangerous experiences. They can happen when symptoms get worse over a number of days or hours or can happen suddenly, even when someone is taking their medication and avoiding their triggers. People with asthma usually deal with their own attacks by using a blue reliever inhaler at the first sign of an attack. But if someone doesn’t have an inhaler, or the attack is severe, you may need to help.
Signs of an asthma attack
If you do not know if you have asthma, these 4 symptoms could be signs that you do:
- Coughing that sometimes wakes you up at night.
- Wheezing, or a whistling sound when you breathe. You may hear it more when you breathe out. It can start as a low-sounding whistle and get higher.
- Breathing problems that include having shortness of breath, feeling like you are out of breath,
- gasping for air, having trouble breathing out, or breathing faster than normal. When breathing gets
- very difficult, the skin of your chest and neck may suck inward.
- Chest tightness
Anyone who has asthma is at risk of an asthma attack. You may be at increased risk of a serious asthma attack if:
- You’ve previously been admitted to the hospital or had to go to the emergency room for asthma
- You’ve had a severe asthma attack in the past
- You use more than two quick-relief (rescue) inhalers a month
- You have other chronic health conditions, such as sinusitis or nasal polyps
- Your asthma attacks tend to “sneak up” on you before you notice symptoms have worsened
How long does an asthma attack last?
The duration of an asthma attack can vary, depending on what caused it and how long the airways have been inflamed. Mild episodes may last only a few minutes; more severe ones can last from hours to days. Mild attacks can resolve spontaneously or may require medication, typically a quick-acting inhaler. More severe attacks can be shortened with appropriate treatment.
What should be done during an asthma attack?
Always follow the instructions of a physician. People with asthma should have an action plan for dealing with an acute attack. In general, it is important to stay calm and take prescribed medications. Quick-relief medications are used to treat asthma attacks and are taken as needed; they include short-acting, rapid-onset inhaled beta2-agonist bronchodilators and anticholinergics (which relax the muscles) and systemic corticosteroids (which reduce inflammation).