An asthma attack occurs when these symptoms escalate, making it very difficult to breathe.
Steps to take immediately
During an attack, it is recommended to take one puff of a reliever every 30 to 60 seconds.
The following actions can help to manage an attack:
- Sit up straight and try to remain calm. Do not lie down.
- Take one puff of a reliever or rescue inhaler every 30 to 60 seconds, with a maximum of 10 puffs.
- If symptoms get worse or do not improve after 10 puffs, seek emergency medical care.
- If it takes longer than 15 minutes for help to arrive, repeat step 2.
Asthma attacks are potentially life-threatening. Seek help if symptoms do not get better.
Sitting up straight will help to open the airways, making it easier for air to move through the lungs.
Remaining calm is essential. The body's natural stress response, sometimes called "fight or flight" mode, can make symptoms worse.
Breathing exercises can help. The purpose of these exercises is to reduce the number of breaths, keeping the airways open longer and making it easier to breathe.
Pursed lip breathing
- Breathe in through the nose.
- Breathe out through pursed lips. The exhale should be at least twice as long as the inhale.
- Breathe in through the nose with hands placed on the belly.
- With relaxed neck and shoulders, breathe out. The exhale should last two or three times longer than the inhale.
Many emergency home remedies are suggested on the internet. However, these are usually not supported by scientific evidence.
- Caffeine: Some suggest that caffeine can help to treat asthma, because it is closely related to an older drug. A review of the available evidence in 2001 found that caffeine appeared to modestly improve lung function for up to 4 hours. The authors concluded that a person may need to avoid caffeine before a lung function test. There is no evidence that it helps with an acute asthma attack.
- Eucalyptus oil: Some researchers have suggested that that inhaling eucalyptus oil may help to ease symptoms of asthma. However, no studies have considered the effectiveness during an attack. Keep in mind that eucalyptus may instead trigger asthma symptoms in some people.
Symptoms of asthma attack
Coughing, wheezing, and a tight feeling in the chest are symptoms of an asthma attack.
After a trigger causes symptoms to worsen, an attack happens. Symptoms may get worse gradually over a few days, sometimes without the person noticing.
Someone is experiencing an asthma attack if:
- their reliever inhaler is not helping, or it is effective for less than 4 hours
- coughing, wheezing, a tight feeling in the chest, or breathlessness gets worse
- breathlessness makes it difficult to speak, eat, or sleep
- their breathing is getting faster or they feel like they cannot catch their breath
Symptoms of poorly managed asthma typically include:
- shortness of breath
- tightness in the chest
The severity and number of symptoms vary. For example, a child with asthma may have all of the above symptoms or only a chronic cough.
What causes an asthma attack?
Many factors and activities can cause asthma symptoms. These factors are called triggers, and they vary from person to person.
Common triggers include:
- tobacco smoke
- pet hair or dander
- smoke from burning wood or grass
- sinus infections and allergies
- acid reflux
- bad weather, including that which features thunderstorms or high humidity
Some people find that asthma symptoms are worse during exercise, when they have a cold, or when they are feeling stressed.
The best way for a person with frequent or persistent asthma to prevent an attack is to take preventive asthma medication as prescribed by a doctor, even if they have very few or mild symptoms.
Anyone who has to use their rescue inhaler more three times a week should meet with an asthma specialist to review their treatment plan.
People with the condition are advised to identify their triggers and avoid them when possible.
It is also helpful to monitor symptoms, as asthma attacks often start slowly. Recognizing unusual symptoms can lead to earlier awareness of an impending attack.
Maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking will also help to prevent attacks, as will getting a flu vaccine every year.
Many find that exercising in cold weather can trigger asthma symptoms because frigid air irritates the airways in the lungs. Tying a scarf over the mouth can help to warm up the air before it hits the lungs.
There is no cure for asthma, but a person can keep symptoms under control. Taking medications and learning to identify and avoid triggers are the most effective ways to prevent asthma attacks.
Attacks are potentially life-threatening. A rescue inhaler is often enough to treat an attack but seek emergency medical attention if symptoms do not go away.
Even if no emergency care was necessary, anyone who has experienced an asthma attack is advised to see a doctor.