Tips for Coping With Asthma Attacks

Have you ever had an asthma attack? I have, and it's scary. That feeling of not being able to catch your breath, coughing until tears are running down your face -- it's almost like you're "drowning in air," as some describe it. Believe me, it's not an experience anyone wants to repeat, if they have any control over it.

In this post, you can learn more about asthma attacks, what brings them on and how to cope with them. This is important information for every person who has asthma to know.

What Is an Asthma Attack?

People with asthma or parents of children with asthma need to know how to recognize an asthma attack in its earliest stages. Taking steps to relieve the symptoms early on can help prevent more serious outcomes such as a need for emergency care or even death.

Asthma is an inflammation of the airways. The inflammation results in narrowing of the breathing tubes and sometimes blockage. The muscles around your airways tighten and you may also have more mucus in your airways.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but can include:

Work with your doctor to figure out your symptoms of an impending asthma attack.

Some attacks are minor and can be quickly resolved with rest or medication. Others are more severe and will require more intensive treatment and possibly the care of a health care professional.

What Causes an Asthma Attack?

The nature of asthma is that the symptoms are intermittent. This means they come and go. Very few people who have asthma have symptoms all of the time. Instead, symptoms are brought on, or triggered, when you come into contact with certain environmental substances or conditions that you are sensitive to.

The most common triggers for asthma attacks are allergens in the air, including:

  • Grass, tree and weed pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Insect droppings, i.e., cockroaches

Other common triggers are irritants in the air, rather than allergy-producing reactions. These could include:

  • Wood or tobacco smoke
  • Chemical fumes
  • Strong odors, such as perfumes (these get me all the time)

In addition, any kind of respiratory infection, including the flu, can trigger an asthma attack. Some people are also sensitive to strenuous activity and exercise. Cold, or extremely dry weather can be a trigger in certain people, as can strong emotions that change your breathing patterns. I've even had mild asthma attacks triggered by too much laughing.

If you've had severe asthma attacks in the past, requiring aggressive treatment and/or a trip to the ER or hospital, you are more at risk for having severe attacks in the future. The same holds true for people whose asthma is not well-controlled.

How Do You Respond to an Asthma Attack?

Your first line of defense is your Asthma Action Plan. If you don't have one, then talk to your doctor about developing one. An action plan can help you identify the first signs of an asthma attack and will guide you in how to respond. So, if you start to notice the symptoms on your plan, follow the steps designed to help you recover.

As a general rule, though, the key is to stay as calm as you can. I know that's not always easy, believe me. But panicking will only make your symptoms even worse. Next, take your quick-relief medication, as prescribed by your doctor. This type of medication is usually taken via a handheld device called an inhaler. It works to relax your airway muscles so that you can breathe easier.

If your symptoms respond to rest and your medication, then that may be all you need. But if symptoms do not get better or worsen, you may need emergency care. Your doctor, and your Action Plan, should help you know how to recognize an asthma emergency, so that you know when to seek help.

If you find that you are having frequent asthma attacks or that you're needing to use your quick-relief medication more often, it means that your asthma control is not where it should be. This is not unusual; asthma control can change over time. When this happens, though, it's time to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she can work with you to make changes in your treatment plan that will lead to better asthma control.

In Summary

Every person who has asthma is at risk for an asthma attack. The best way to keep attacks from happening is to keep your asthma under control.

  • See your doctor regularly and be open about how you've been feeling.
  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • Use your Asthma Action Plan to act on symptoms right away, before your asthma spirals out of control.
  • Get annual flu shots and check with your doctor about pneumonia vaccines.
  • Take steps to avoid your allergy triggers and environmental irritants.

Most asthma attacks are mild. But they can be more severe. Never ignore an asthma attack -- treat it quickly and get help if your symptoms do not get better or if they worsen. Not doing so could result in respiratory arrest or even death.


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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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