When Asthma is an Emergency
While asthma can usually be controlled with the regular use of appropriate medications, severe asthma attacks are medical emergencies that require immediate attention. If symptoms don’t improve within five minutes of taking medication, or if they reappear in less than two hours, you may be in a life-threatening situation.
Pay attention to the following signs of a severe asthma attack–and because children cannot always tell you how they feel, be alert to these signs in young children. Seek help immediately if an asthma attack includes:
- Peak flow reading below 50%.
- Shortness of breath: inability to speak more than a few words without gasping for air.
- Sweating or unusual paleness, along with other symptoms.
- Sitting, leaning forward, with hands resting on legs.
- Very rapid pulse.
- Inflated chest, which indicates that air is trapped in the lungs.
- Blue or gray lips or hands.
- Nostrils that flare when attempting to breathe.
In infants, signs of a severe asthma attack include:
- Breathing rate that increases to over 40 breaths per minute while sleeping.
- Cessation in suckling or feeding.
- Skin between ribs pulled tight.
- Enlarged chest.
- Change in skin or nail color.
- Change in quality of the infant’s cry — softer and shorter.
Your asthma attack could be fatal if you fail to get medical help soon enough. But if you heed early warning signs and intervene right away, you will need less medication to bring symptoms under control. Early warnings provided by peak flow measurements should alert you to take your medication and discontinue any current activity that may be triggering an attack. If symptoms don’t improve after taking these steps, get medical help right away. Remember, there is a Health Alliance Emergency Room nearby.
Asthma can start at any age. Go here to learn about special issues affecting seniors.
Make sure to look at your environment and nip asthma in the bud.
Learn more from the American Lung Association.
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