Are You At Risk For An Asthma Attack?

When you have asthma, chances are good that sooner or later you will experience an asthma attack. If you've had one, you know that it can be a terrifying experience -- you can't catch your breath; it feels like there's a lead weight on your chest; it's almost like you're drowning in air, right?

Basically, an asthma attack is what happens when asthma symptoms come on suddenly:1,2

I don't know about you, but when I have an asthma attack, I often start to get a bit panicky. It's one reason I keep my quick-relief inhaler close by all the time. Sometimes, the symptoms will resolve quickly or with one hit of your inhaler. Other times, they can be much more severe and hard to get under control. They could even become life-threatening if not treated.1,2

Asthma attack risk factors

It's true that most people who have asthma do suffer asthma attacks from time to time. However, if your asthma is treated effectively, your symptoms should stay under control.

There are certain risk factors, though, that can increase your chances of having an asthma attack:

1. Exposure to allergens and/or irritants

Most people who have asthma have the allergic type. This means that your symptoms are triggered by a sensitivity to certain environmental substances. Examples are:1,3

Other substances in the air that do not really cause an allergic reaction but that can further irritate already irritated airways can include:1,3

So, coming into contact with any of your allergens or certain irritants could bring on an asthma attack, particularly if your asthma control is already slipping.

2. Respiratory infections

Because your airways are already somewhat inflamed and irritated all of the time, they are less able to withstand the effects of respiratory infections. What does this include?1,3

  • The flu
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinusitis or sinus infections
  • Common cold

This is why experts recommend that everyone who has asthma should get yearly flu shots and periodic pneumonia shots. Even if the shot is not always 100% effective in preventing the illness, it will lessen its severity and decrease your chances of an asthma flare.1

3. Lifestyle factors

There are a few other risk factors connected with your lifestyle or certain situations that can also trigger an asthma attack.1-3

  • Strenuous exercise, especially in a dry environment
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Breathing very cold air
  • Strong emotions that affect breathing patterns

I don't know about you, but I've had a few mild asthma attacks brought on by laughter. Not just a gentle chuckle of course, but the gut busting belly laugh kind of frivolity I sometimes have with my daughters or siblings.

Warning signs of a severe asthma attack

All of the above risk factors can bring on both mild and severe attacks, but if you've had any of the things below, you may be at a greater risk for a severe asthma attack.1,3

  • You had a severe asthma attack in the past. Once you've had one severe asthma attack, there's a good chance, it will recur in the future, particularly if you needed emergency care or were admitted to the hospital.
  • Your attacks seem to have a sudden onset. If you tend to develop symptoms suddenly or your symptoms creep up on you before you notice any changes, an attack may go from annoying to serious in a heartbeat.
  • You use your quick-relief inhaler more than a couple of times a week. This is a sign that your asthma is not under control. When asthma is not well-controlled, a severe asthma attack may be on the horizon.

Preventing asthma attacks

Obviously, the best way to prevent an asthma attack is to avoid substances or situations that can trigger your symptoms. The second best way is to follow the treatment plan that your health care team puts together for you. In other words, take your medicine!1,3

Everyone who has asthma should also have an asthma action plan to follow. An action plan is a tool that helps you monitor your symptoms, identify signs of trouble, and then take the right actions quickly to help prevent things from getting worse. It uses a stoplight analogy and you develop it with your healthcare provider.1,3

The main thing to remember when an asthma attack strikes is to take action quickly. Use your quick-relief inhaler and if that doesn't provide relief, then seek medical care right away.1,3

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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