Recognize the Signs of an Acute Asthma Attack and Prevent It

Quincy AdamAsthma Lifestyle

Asthma Doctor Patient Breathe
Identifying the early warning signs of an acute asthma attack – one that comes on suddenly and is generally caused by allergens – is crucial to your health as an asthma patient.

So is knowing what to do in the event of a severe flare up.

Warning Signs

An asthma attack isn’t the same for everyone. People have different triggers and exhibit varied warning signs. The biggest identifying symptom is the bronchospasm or tightening of the air passage. Your airways, lungs, and esophagus can become inflamed and swollen. This leads to shortness of breath, which can cause dizziness, fatigue and faintness. Your heart rate will increase, and you might feel agitated. Your lungs will produce extra or thicker mucus, giving you a rattling cough, sometimes mistaken for pneumonia.

If you have shortness of breath when trying to walk or talk, you are likely experiencing an acute asthma attack. Prolonged severe attacks can make you too weak to stand, unable to speak, lethargic, panicky and confused. Some people even lose consciousness.

If you can’t breathe for such a long period that your extremities or face turn blue, OR you can’t control your symptoms despite using your medication, then seek immediate emergency treatment.

Early signs of a less severe asthma attack may not seem like an attack at all but present themselves like allergies with a runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, and sneezing. You might feel run-down, irritable and exhausted.

If you’re not sure it’s an attack:

  • Breathe in deeply and pay attention to how your throat and windpipe feel. Does the air enter freely, or does it whistle like a teapot?
  • Give a single forceful exhale. Does it make a wheezy sound? Does it feel like there’s a “catch” in your chest like a clogged drain?
  • Can you speak normally, or do you have to pause for breath more often than usual?

Asthma Attack Prevention

It’s always good to have an emergency inhaler, and you should use it before a severe attack sets in because once your airways close completely, the medicine might not be able to enter your lungs fully. Emergency medication isn’t always enough, however. Sometimes you need a regular regimen of preventive medicine. Antihistamines and epinephrine may help if your asthma is triggered by allergies. Be sure to follow the directions and proper dosages of all medications!

When an attack begins, stay calm. Try to breathe slowly instead of gasping for breath, but clear your throat if necessary. Get away from any triggers aggravating your lungs and find a place to sit upright. You need to rest, but lying on your back can make it harder to breathe. Don’t try to stand if you feel dizzy, and avoid driving or operating any machinery that can harm yourself or others.

Your preventive priority, besides knowing the signs of an asthma attack, is to identify your asthma triggers.

Potential triggers include allergens, cold air, smoke, humidity, exercise, and stress. Once you discover your triggers, avoid them within reason.

If you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, don’t swear off physical activity forever, but know your limits. You should also let people know about your triggers. If you have friends who smoke, and smoke causes your attacks, ask them not to smoke around you. Don’t visit the homes of people with pets to which you have severe allergies.

Finally, talk to your friends and family about the signs of an asthma attack. You don’t want them to find out by surprise. People have a tendency to panic when someone has an attack. Let them know ahead of time to remain calm, and that asthma usually looks worse than it is. Calling an ambulance every time you cough is a common overreaction. Other reactions, like slapping you on the back or administering a Heimlich maneuver, are not only unnecessary but potentially harmful. Educate and inform those around you so they can be of help when needed.