People with asthma can sometimes have asthma attacks. When this happens, their airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it hard to breathe. Asthma attacks can be serious and can also be fatal. During a severe asthma attack, you may not get enough oxygen into your lungs and can even stop breathing.
Receiving proper treatment for an asthma attack is vital. That’s why it’s so important to follow the asthma action plan you’ve developed with your doctor and to seek emergency treatment when necessary.
Read on to learn more about asthma attacks, when to seek emergency care, and the risk factors associated with asthma death.
What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?
The symptoms of an asthma attack can include:
- coughing or wheezing
- shortness of breath
- having trouble breathing
- a tight feeling in your chest
A mild asthma attack may last only a few minutes and respond to rescue medication. However, moderate or severe asthma attacks may last longer and, in some cases, don’t respond to rescue medication.
You should seek help immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:
- breathlessness or wheezing that’s severe or rapidly worsens
- shortness of breath that’s so bad you can only speak in short phrases
- straining hard in order to breathe
- lips or fingernails that have turned a gray or blue color
- no symptom relief after using your rescue inhaler
Know the warning signs
Recognizing the warning signs that an asthma attack may be coming can help you to summon help quickly if one does occur. Some warning signs to look out for include:
- asthma symptoms that have become more frequent or disruptive to your day-to-day activities
- needing to use your rescue inhaler more often
- having symptoms that are keeping you up at night
Ensuring you get the assistance you need
Make sure that your family, friends, and those close to you know what to do if you have an attack. Keep a copy of your medications and emergency contacts, including your doctor, on your phone so that you can show it to others who may come to your aid during an attack.
If your asthma is very severe, you may consider getting a medical ID bracelet that can alert first responders to your condition. Additionally, there are even phone apps available that can help you and your doctor monitor your symptoms.
Risk factors for asthma attack death
Some risk factors for death from asthma include:
- uncontrolled asthma or noncompliance with an asthma treatment plan
- previous severe asthma attacks or hospitalizations due to asthma
- poor lung function, as measured by peak expiratory flow (PEF) or forced expiratory volume (FEV1)
- having been put on a ventilator for asthma previously
Complications from asthma
Besides the potential to be fatal, there are several other complications that can occur due to asthma. These can include:
- symptoms that disrupt your day-to-day activities or hobbies
- increased absences from school or work
- permanent narrowing of your airways, which can affect how you breathe
- side effects from medications that you’ve been using to control your asthma
- repeated visits to your doctor or the emergency room
- psychological side effects, such as depression
Asthma attack prevention
Prevention measures can help you avoid a severe asthma attack. Some examples of preventative actions that you can take include:
Sticking to your asthma action plan
Work with your doctor to develop a personalized action plan to help keep your asthma under control. Your plan will include things like how often to take your asthma medications, when to step up your treatment, when to see your doctor, and what to do if you have an asthma attack.
Make copies of your asthma action plan for reference. You can also keep a photo of your plan on your phone. It’s a good idea to share this information with family and loved ones so they know what to do if you have an attack. If you’re too ill to make your own medical decisions, they should know to get you to medical help as quickly as possible.
Avoiding your triggers
An asthma attack can be triggered by a number of things. Asthma triggers can vary from person to person, so it’s important to know what yours are. Some common triggers include:
- allergens, such as pollen, mold, or pet dander
- air pollution
- secondhand smoke
- cold weather
- irritants, such as dust, perfumes, or chemical fumes
- respiratory illnesses, such as the flu or a cold
Monitoring your condition
Make sure to have regular appointments with your doctor to review your condition. If you notice a change in your symptoms that’s concerning, be sure to talk to your doctor about it. In some cases, your treatment or asthma action plan may need to be updated.
The bottom line
Asthma attacks can be fatal. A severe asthma attack can prevent you from getting enough oxygen into your lungs and can even stop your breathing. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of a severe asthma attack, you should seek emergency medical attention.
Working together with your doctor, you can come up with an asthma action plan. By carefully following this plan, monitoring your symptoms, and avoiding your asthma triggers, you can help to lower your chances of experiencing a severe asthma attack.
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