An asthma attack is an abrupt increase in the symptoms of asthma. In most cases, an episode includes the following:
- Shallow, rapid and difficulty breathing
- Whistle-like noises when breathing (wheezing)
- Feeling of not being able to take a deep breath. Children with chest tightness might complain of having a stomach ache.
The symptoms might range from mild, moderate or severe depending on the amount of airflow reduced to the lungs. An asthma attack can be brief or last for several days. In some cases, it can be seasonal or occur only during a season.
Possible causes of an asthma attack
The asthma symptoms might occur abruptly or up to several hours after being exposed to the triggers such as animal dander or tobacco smoke. In some cases, the symptoms might not manifest until 4-12 hours after exposure. Even though severe attacks might occur abruptly, they usually manifest after several days of increasing symptoms.
An asthma attack can be caused by the following:
- Chronic swelling in the tubes that transport air to the lungs.
- Narrowing of the smooth muscles of the bronchial tubes which causes the airways to constrict. This reduces the flow of air to and from the lungs.
- Additional production of mucus by the mucous glands in the bronchial tubes which occurs among those with asthma and can disrupt with the airflow.
Even though an asthma attack can be serious, it can be managed at home. Many individuals have an asthma action plan which states out the medications to use based on the severity of the attack and when to seek medical attention.
Important factors in an asthma action plan
- Asthma triggers – these are substances that can trigger an asthma attack. Avoidance of these triggers can reduce the risk for an attack and minimize its severity.
- Asthma symptoms – an attack is indicated by a drop in the peak expiratory flow (PEF) and amplified coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness.
- Rapid-relief medications to be taken and how to take them
- How to assess whether the quick-relief medications are effective
- When emergency care is required – if an individual with asthma has a significant drop in PEF, rapid-relief medications are not effective or the skin has a bluish color, he/she requires emergency care.
Disclaimer / More Information
The information posted on this page on asthma attack is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to be prepared to manage respiratory emergencies including an asthma attack, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Surrey, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.