Asthma Attack Calls for Quick Response
If you are one of the 17 million Americans who have asthma, you are probably aware of the “triggers” that can provoke an attack. For most people, these triggers include allergens or irritants, viral or sinus infections, exercise, reflux disease, certain medications or foods, and emotional anxiety. When these or other triggers set off an acute episode of asthma, three changes take place in your lungs that make breathing difficult:
- Cells in your air tubes make more mucus than normal, which clogs up the tubes.
- The air tubes tend to swell, just as skin swells when you get a scrape.
- The muscles in your air tubes tighten.
Asthma attacks may start suddenly, or they may take a long time, even days, to develop. Proper treatment depends on whether these attacks are severe, moderate or mild.
Severe attacks cause you to become breathless. As you’re less able to breathe, you may have trouble talking, your neck muscles and the skin around your ribs may tighten, and your lips and fingernails may turn “blue.” In the case of a severe asthma attack, take your asthma medicine immediately and get emergency medical help. People sometimes die from severe attacks.
Moderate and mild attacks are more common. You may feel your chest tightening gradually. You may start coughing or spitting up mucus, feeling restless, and making whistling or wheezing sounds when your breathe. If this happens, take your asthma medicine right away. Usually, this will open the air tubes within minutes, but may take a few hours. If your medicine does not relieve your symptoms, call your doctor.
In rare instances, after an asthma attack subsides you can develop a “second wave” attack that can be more severe than the first one. The air tubes may continue to swell, even when you are not having other asthma symptoms, making it harder to breathe. This second wave may last for days or even weeks after the first attack. If this happens, you may have to be admitted to the hospital in order to reduce the swelling and relax tightened muscles.
Sources: American Lung Association
Learn about this non-profit organization trying to improve lives for those with allergies or asthma.
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