I have been asked this more times than I can count by both non asthmatics as well as fellow asthmatics. I found myself giving the same answer over and over. When I was in college studying and training to be come a Respiratory Therapist, I started asking people the same question. Now I always ask my asthmatic patients when I am at work in the hospital the same question I have been asked for over two decades.
What does an asthma attack feel like to you?
What I have realized over the years is that no two people will give the same answer. Just as asthma is a widely varying disease, so are its symptoms. Also, not all asthma attacks that you have yourself will feel the same. I know mine don’t always feel the same and I will have varying symptoms as well. You more than likely have noticed that when your asthma is acting up you may experience more than one of the descriptions listed below.
“Fish out of water”
This is a pretty common answer I hear when I ask asthmatics what it feels like. Think of if you were suddenly submerged in water and trying to breathe. Impossible to do. It is a terrible suffocating feeling.
“There is an elephant sitting on my chest”
This one feels exactly like what it sounds like. Literally like there is an elephant sitting on your chest. It is hard to get air in and out. No matter what position you are in it is difficult to breathe.
“I cough so much that I can’t catch my breath”
Coughing can definitely make you short of breath. Especially when you are trying to cough out any mucus that is in your lungs. It’s hard work having to cough hard enough to clear it all out which can lead to being short of breath. Also, coughing due to that insatiable tickling feeling down in your lungs can lead to shortness of breath as well.
“My chest feels tight and heavy”
This one is usually how I feel when my asthma is acting up. For me, an asthma attack feels like I am wearing a really tight corset while trying to breathe through a coffee stirrer straw. I personally don’t wheeze and my chest gets really tight like I am wearing a corset that is four sizes too small. When the airways constrict it leads to the tight feeling.
“I feel like there is a pillow being held over my face”
This description is similar to a fish out of water. Trying to breathe with anything covering your mouth and nose is pretty close to impossible. When your airways are so inflamed and filled with mucus, it can definitely lead to the suffocating feeling.
“I am short of breath and can hear wheezing”
The wheezing sound and feeling comes from when your smaller airways become inflamed and narrow and produce extra mucus. Wheezing is most commonly heard when you exhale, but can also be heard when you inhale. This leads to shortness of breath.
The things I have listed are just a small fraction of the answers I have heard from asthmatics over the years. It is important to remember that any asthma symptoms you may be experiencing are classified as an “attack.” Also, when you are experiencing any asthma symptoms it is imperative to follow your written asthma action plan and seek medical attention when warranted.
My question to you is the same one I ask my asthma patients in the hospital. What does an asthma attack feel like to you? Comment below and let me know!