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Recognizing the symptoms of an asthma attack, and learning about asthma triggers, can help you get the care you need. 


What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that affects your breathing. It causes inflammation and obstruction of the bronchial tubes, which allow air to enter and leave your lungs. An asthma attack happens when the muscles around your airways tighten, called a bronchospasm. The lining of your airways becomes inflamed and fills with mucus.


What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

Asthma affects people of all ages, but symptoms can vary by person. People with asthma may have one or more symptoms during an asthma attack, including: 

  • Breathing difficulties

    • Shortness of breath
    • Rapid breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Persistent coughing, especially in the morning or evening
  • Difficulty talking
  • Feeling anxious or panicked


What are asthma attack triggers?

Allergen exposure: pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander.

Air irritants: strong odors, perfume, smoke or chemical fumes.

Extreme weather: a humid, hot summer day, a spring day with high pollen or a frigid winter day.

Certain illnesses: flu, sinusitis, mild upper respiratory infection.

Strenuous exercise. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program that may worsen your asthma symptoms. 

Stress and anxiety. Changes in emotions and mood can alter normal breathing patterns.


How long do asthma attacks last?

The duration of an asthma attack varies depending on the triggers and the level of inflammation in the airways. 

A mild attack is most common. The airways typically open within a few minutes to a few hours if treated with treatment such as a quick-action inhaler. 

A severe asthma attack is less common. The attack has severe symptoms, such as worsening coughing or shortness of breath and blue lips or fingertips, that require emergency medical treatment. Call 9-1-1 immediately.


How is asthma treated? 

An allergist or pulmonologist oversees asthma treatment. Together, you will create an asthma action plan to treat asthma by:

  • Managing symptoms and triggers of an attack.
  • Finding the proper medication to treat an attack.
  • Learning how to decrease the frequency of an attack.

Specific treatments may include:

Quick-relief medication. Your doctor will prescribe a quick-relief inhaler you can use daily and may also prescribe an additional as-needed inhaler that quickly reduces airway inflammation during an asthma attack. Follow the instructions as specified. 

A peak flow meter. This breathing device monitors how well your lungs work, letting your doctor know if your medication needs to be adjusted. 

Breathing exercises. Regulating your breath, especially when stressed or anxious, can help to avoid an asthma attack.

Routine doctor visits. Your primary care physician (PCP) and asthma specialist will review your asthma action plan and make changes if you are experiencing new or worsening symptoms. 

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