An asthma attack can be triggered by exposure to an allergen, such as tree, grass or weed pollen, dust mites, cockroaches or animal dander. Other common triggers are irritants in the air, such as smoke or chemical fumes, and strong odors, such as perfume.
Certain illnesses — particularly the flu, sinusitis or an upper respiratory infection — may also trigger an asthma attack, as can strenuous exercise, extreme weather conditions and strong emotions that change normal breathing patterns.
Warning signs of a potential asthma attack can include an increase in your need for rescue medication (especially albuterol), a worsening cough, shortness of breath (particularly if it wakes you up at night) and diminished tolerance for exercise.
All of these factors — bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production — cause symptoms of an asthma attack such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty performing normal daily activities. Other symptoms of an asthma attack may include:
- Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
- Coughing that won’t stop
- Very rapid breathing
- Chest tightness or pressure
- Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
- Difficulty talking
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Pale, sweaty face
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Or worsening symptoms despite use of your medications
Alabama Clinics provide immediate treatment during the Asthma attack. However, if the attack occurs outside the clinic working schedule, or you think that all the above symptoms are very severe then call 911.
If you are experiencing some of the above symptoms then it’s better to see the doctor for the diagnosis of the asthma.
Dealing with an acute attack. In general, it is important to stay calm and use the medications your allergist has prescribed.
Quick-relief medications — often administered via an inhaler — are used to treat asthma attacks as needed. They include short-acting, rapid-onset beta2-agonist and/or anticholinergic bronchodilators (which relax airway muscles) and systemic corticosteroids (which reduce airway inflammation). If symptoms persist, see your allergist.
Panic can prevent a person with asthma from relaxing and following instructions, which is essential during an attack. Scientists have found that rapid breathing associated with strong emotions, like panic, can cause bronchial tubes to constrict.
Seek immediate medical treatment if coughing or shortness of breath persists or seems to be worsening.
Triggers in Children
Asthma affects as many as 10% to 12% of children in the United States and is the leading cause of chronic illness in children. Some triggers particularly affect children with asthma and can make the inflammation in their lungs even worse. The common cold is one of the most frequent triggers for asthma attacks in very young children. Others include:
- Exposure to allergens (such as animal dander, dust mites or pollen)
- Strong smells (perfumes or other odors)
- Changes in weather; cold air
- Running or playing hard
- Crying or laughing
If your child has asthma, your family care doctor will help you discover the triggers that bring on or worsen the symptoms. The first step to controlling symptoms is to stay away from whatever makes your child cough or wheeze.
Know About Unusual Asthma Symptoms
Not everyone with asthma has the usual symptoms of cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Sometimes individuals have unusual asthma symptoms that may not appear to be related to asthma. Some “unusual” asthma symptoms may include the following:
- rapid breathing
- inability to exercise properly (called exercise-induced asthma)
- difficulty sleeping or nighttime asthma
- difficulty concentrating
- chronic cough without wheezing
Also, asthma symptoms can be mimicked by other conditions such as bronchitis, vocal cord dysfunction, and even heart failure. It is better that you consult a doctor to understand your body completely.
Our doctor will help you create a plan that’s right for him. Most use a simple system that’s set up like a traffic light: green for “go,” yellow for “caution,” and red for “stop — danger!” See how you fit into each color zone, and you’ll know how to respond.
The Green Zone
This is where you want to be. You’ll know you’re in the green zone when you:
- are breathing easy
- aren’t coughing or wheezing
- can do your regular activities
- Sleep through the night without coughing
If you can say “yes” to those four items, you’re doing well. No need to hold back from your usual routine. Enjoy your activities.
Even when you’re doing well, keep up your regular medication. Your doctor may call it “controller” medicine because it keeps your asthma in check over the long haul. Make sure you follow the instructions for the dose and when to take it.
The Yellow Zone
Think of this category as a big yellow “caution” sign. You’ll know you belongs here when you:
- Feel like short of breath
- Have some trouble doing your usual activities
- Have a tight feeling in your chest, or congestion
- Wake up at night with breathing problems
If you have some or all of those, make sure you are taking your regular treatment plus any additional medications that doctor recommends. The doctor might prescribe some that give quick relief when you have symptoms, called “rescue” medicines.
The Red Zone
This zone means DANGER. Call your doctor right away if you are in this zone. You may take your rescue medications immediately to mitigate the symptoms. If you think the symptoms are severe and persistent, then don’t hesitate to call 911.
Here’s what to watch for:
- You’re breathing hard and fast.
- Your nostrils are open wide.
- You have trouble walking.
- You’re not talking well.
- Your ribs retract with each breath.