An asthma attack is a reaction to a trigger. It is similar in many ways to an allergic reaction.
Each person with asthma has his or her own unique set of triggers. Most triggers cause attacks in some people with asthma and not in others. Common triggers of asthma attacks include
A number of factors are thought to increase your chances of developing asthma. These include:
When the breathing passages become irritated or infected, an attack is triggered. The attack may come on suddenly or develop slowly over several days or hours. The main symptoms that signal an attack are as follows:
Symptoms may occur during the day or at night. If they happen at night, they may disturb your sleep.
Wheezing is the most common symptom of an asthma attack.
Current guidelines for the care of people with asthma include classifying the severity of asthma symptoms, as follows:
Just because a person has mild or moderate asthma does not
mean that he or she cannot have a severe attack. The severity of asthma can
change over time, either for better or for worse.
If you go to the emergency department for an asthma attack, the health care provider will first assess how severe the attack is. Attacks are usually classified as mild, moderate, or severe. This assessment is based on several factors:
Mild and moderate attacks usually involve the following symptoms, which may come on gradually:
Severe attacks are less common. They may involve the following symptoms:
If you are able to speak, the health-care provider will ask you questions about your symptoms, your medical history, and your medications. Answer as completely as you can. He or she will also examine you and observe you as you breathe.
If this is your first attack, or the first time you have sought medical attention for your symptoms, the health-care provider will ask questions and perform tests to search for and rule out other causes of the symptoms.
Measurements of how well you are breathing include the following:
There is no blood test than can pinpoint the cause of asthma.
A chest X-ray may also be taken. This is mostly to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
If your asthma has just been diagnosed, you may be started on a regimen of medications and monitoring. You will be given two types of medications:
Your treatment plan will also include other components:
At your follow-up visits, your health-care provider will review how you have been doing.
The peak flow meter is a simple, inexpensive device that measures how forcefully you are able to exhale.
Together, you and your health-care provider will develop an action plan for you in case of asthma attack. The action plan will include the following: