Ready SET Go!

Asthma is a disease of inflammation. When we are exposed to one of our triggers our lungs become inflamed and we experience asthma symptoms. No two asthmatics are the same in that our triggers may be different, what inhalers/asthma medications are most effective in preventing symptoms and what symptoms we experience during a flare-up. Asthma is not a one size fits all disease. What happens inside our lungs in response to a trigger can be explained using the “SET” mnemonic.

Swelling

During an asthma flare-up, the lungs become swollen and narrow due to inflammation. When you are exposed to an asthma trigger, it causes the inflammation. Some common asthma triggers are smoke, illness, pet dander, mold, weather changes to name a few.

Excess Mucus

When the inflammation is in full force, the cells within the lungs will produce excess mucus. The mucus is usually very thick and difficult to cough up. The excess mucus in the airways along with the narrowing is what causes the wheezing sound and contributes to breathing difficulty during an asthma attack.

Tightness

One of the most common asthma symptoms is tightness in the chest. To me it feels like I am wearing an extremely tight corset or an elephant is standing on my chest. The muscles around the airways contract and tighten which makes the airways smaller, making it hard to breathe.

The combination of all three components of the SET mnemonic leads to asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. It also leads to the feeling of being difficult to get all the air out when you exhale (hyperinflation) due to the combination of the three SET parts. If you are relatively new to asthma, try to pay close attention to your body and become aware of any early warning signs that your asthma is starting to act up. Some early warning signs include nighttime coughing, being more tired than usual, exercise intolerance and your peak flow readings might start to drop before you start experiencing any asthma symptoms. If the asthma flare gets really bad, you might have what we in the medical field call a “silent chest” where the swelling, excess mucus and tightness are so severe that we literally can’t hear any breath sounds at all and it is a critical situation that requires immediate and prolonged respiratory intervention. The best way to prevent a severe asthma attack is to try your best to avoid your triggers. Even if we do everything we can to avoid things that will set our asthma off, sometimes it’s unavoidable. This is when you asthma action plan comes into play and you’ll be able to take the appropriate steps as outlined in your specific plan to help combat your asthma symptoms. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, ask your doctor for one the next time you see him or her. Being prepared is the best offense (and sometimes defense!) that we as asthmatics can do to go to battle with our disease when it flares up.

Ready- SET– Go!

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

Comments

View Comments (4)
  • FeelingShy
    2 weeks ago

    Thank you for this.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 weeks ago

    It’s our pleasure, FeelingShy. Glad you found this to be helpful AND that you took the time to let us know. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    4 weeks ago

    When I get chest tightness, I also feel like my lungs/airway are itching and burning. Use my rescue inhaler and it goes away.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    4 weeks ago

    Hi Shellzoo and thanks for your post. It’s good to hear your rescue inhaler works well for your chest tightness inclusive of the other symptoms you describe (itching and burning sensations). It’s all part of the condition. Fortunately, your medication regimen and clinical awareness is working well for you. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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