Asthma attack

What to do During an Asthma Attack (and How to Prevent it)

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An asthma attack is a sudden occurrence of difficulty breathing, wheezing, and chest tightness. Asthma attacks can be triggered by allergies or exposure to irritants like smoke, dust, and perfume. They can also be caused by stress. If you are experiencing any symptoms of an asthma attack it’s important that you take action immediately.

Asthma attack

While asthma attacks cannot be cured, there are many ways in which they can be managed so that you will have fewer attacks and experience less severe symptoms when you do have them.

In this article, we’ll discuss what triggers an asthma attack, its common symptoms, as well as how to prevent it from happening.

What is asthma and what are the symptoms

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects the airways. It can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.

It also has symptoms that are not related to breathing – they include fatigue, an increased heart rate (pulmonary edema), and fever.

Asthma is typically treated with asthma medications and by avoiding the things that cause an attack. However, when those methods are not enough, it may be necessary to get emergency medical treatment.

Identify the symptoms of an asthma attack

An asthma attack happens when someone’s lungs are overstimulated by things they’re allergic to (like pollen) or something they inhale into their system (like dust).

The person having an attack has difficulty catching their breath. This is because air doesn’t flow as well as it should through the bronchial tubes that lead from the mouth down into the lungs.

Asthma attacks are characterized by:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

The airways to the lungs can become swollen and inflamed during an asthma attack which causes them to constrict making it hard for a person with asthma to breathe normally.

These symptoms generally go away after the allergen is removed or when medication like albuterol begins taking effect.

What to do when you have an asthma attack 

When you get an asthma attack and you don’t have your inhaler with you, the first reaction is often panic and confusion. You may not know what to do and your asthma pump might be out of reach.

Here are some quick tips you should remember during an asthma attack:

Avoid triggers

Move away from any triggers or irritants (smoking, perfume, dust) that might have caused your asthma attack.

Take a deep breath

First, take a deep breath in through the nose and exhale fully from the mouth. This will help open up your airways so that you can get more oxygen into your body.

Go for a brisk walk outside

If it’s safe to use them outside, go for a brisk walk or run around the block (or just down the street). The fresh air will make breathing easier since there is less pollution mixed with it than indoors.

Distract yourself

Find something else to distract yourself if possible – watch TV, listen to music, read a book, or anything that makes concentrating on each breath much easier.

If none of these work, then consider going to an emergency room as soon as possible. If left untreated asthma attacks may lead to respiratory failure which could be life-threatening.

Tips for managing your asthma attack at home or on the go 

Keep your inhaler handy and within reach at all times. In the event that you feel an asthma attack coming on, use the inhaler as quickly as possible.

If you have a nebulizer, it is best to use that at home. If not, try using a mist inhaler or taking your medications on the go with an oral inhaler like Ventolin.

You can also take an emergency medication called prednisone up to three times a day if needed.

Follow your asthma action plan and keep it updated 

It’s a good idea to have an asthma action plan. This plan should include what medication you should take, what are your possible triggers (based on past incidences), and what emergency steps you’ll take during an asthma attack. It’s important to know what the action items are for when you need them.

This plan should also be updated regularly with any new information or changes that might happen in your life. For example, if you start taking a different type of medicine or develop a food allergy.

It can also be helpful to have your loved one, close friend or colleague know about your plan so they can help out when needed. If possible, send them a copy of your asthma action plan.

How to prevent an asthma attack

There are ways that can help prevent or reduce the occurrences of asthma attacks through medication, diet, and exercise. Some common ways to prevent an asthma attack are:

  • Continuous prescription medication to help reduce the severity of asthma attacks.
  • Maintain a healthy diet that is suitable to your body and condition as it is important to your overall health and it also helps prevent or manage a flare-up in cases of allergies.
  • Exercising regularly increases lung capacity, which improves breathing capability for those with respiratory conditions like asthma. It also reduces stress levels that may contribute to an attack.

Aside from lifestyle changes and medication, another effective way to prevent asthma attacks is by limiting your exposure as much as possible by avoiding things that trigger them like allergens or irritants.

You should also ensure you have access to inhalers if necessary so that it’s accessible in case of emergency. Keeping up with regular medical checkups can also help keep tabs on any potential issues before they become worse.

Know when to seek medical attention for asthma

Get medical assistance ASAP when asthma symptoms become severe – think shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or loss of consciousness.

A visit to the doctor is advised if you also have a fever, difficulty breathing at rest or when talking normally. Furthermore, worsening cough with yellow sputum production should warrant medical attention.

If your child has trouble breathing, Dr Lim Yeong Phang advises:

"You can get a lung assessment by a pediatric lung specialist , in addition to CXR they can measure lung volumes as well to see if there is another objective evidence of lung or airway dysfunction."

Speak with a doctor about ways to treat asthma and prevent asthma attacks

A doctor can tell what type of attack it is and provide more specific instructions on how best to treat it (think inhalers vs prednisone). They may also prescribe new medications as needed which will likely work better than over-the-counter ones.

This can include using medication to open up the airways in your lungs (bronchodilators) or medication for severe symptoms.


Asthma attacks can be life-threatening if they are not treated quickly. They range from mild to severe, but the most common symptom is difficulty breathing.

If you or a loved one has asthma and have experienced an attack before, it’s important to learn how to prevent future attacks as well as treat them when they happen so that you don’t end up in respiratory failure.

The best way to do this is by getting prepared for an emergency with your own personal action plan now instead of waiting until it happens again unexpectedly.

If you have experienced an asthma attack or feel your respiratory system is worsening, schedule an appointment to meet with a specialist. Get in touch with Smarter Health today.

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