A doctor showing a patient an inhaler.

Your Asthma Attack Action Plan

What Is an Asthma Attack

What is an asthma attack? An asthma attack can be a frightening scenario. You might begin coughing. You may struggle to breathe and start wheezing. An asthma attack happens when the muscles tighten around your airway. This then causes your bronchial tubes to become narrow. It limits how much air your body can take in. This area also becomes inflamed and begins to create more mucus, worsening the situation.

However, most asthma attacks can improve with proper action and treatment. They can also range from mild to severe, meaning they do not have to be life threatening. Here we look at when should you seek medical help, what causes an asthma attack and what you should be aware of.

Causes of an Asthma Attack

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease. Experts claim it is caused by an overactive immune system, which becomes triggered by certain substances. These triggers can lead to an asthma attack. Common triggers or causes of an asthma attack may include:

  • Pollen
  • Pets
  • Dust Mites
  • Mold
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Intense exercise
  • Smoke
  • Dry air
  • Humidity
  • Stress
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

These triggers are different from one person to the next. The best thing you can do is to know what your unique triggers are and then avoid them as best as you can. You’ll also want to make sure you have your medication always on hand, in case an attack occurs. Occasionally, there may not be an identifiable cause of the attack. However, most people with asthma can go long amounts of time without experiencing an asthma attack.

Identifying an Asthma Attack

Determining whether an asthma attack is severe or not is critical for getting the help you or your family member needs. Before an attack happens, you may notice that you tire easily. You are also likely to experience symptoms similar to a cold, such as a dry throat, nasal congestion and a runny nose.

When an asthma attack starts, it is usually characterized by a shortness of breath, a tight chest, coughing, wheezing and trouble talking. If it is not treated properly, these symptoms can quickly escalate into a more severe attack.

If your lips turn blue, your heart rate drops, or you experience confusion, you are likely experiencing a very severe asthma attack. In addition, a person may feel anxious or panicked. At this stage, it can become life threatening and immediate medical attention is required.

What Should You Do During an Asthma Attack?

Once you are diagnosed with asthma, you should discuss with your doctor plans for prevention and treatment. You should also already have prescribed medication that works to help keep your asthma under control.

You should also have information on how to identify worsening symptoms, as well as a plan of action for when an attack does not appear to be getting any better. These plans should be passed onto teachers, colleagues, family, or friends to ensure someone is there to help you if an attack happens. If your medication, such as a fast-acting inhaler, does not appear to be calming your symptoms or your peak flow meter reada below 50%, immediately seek medical attention.

What Is a Peak Flow Meter?

Many individuals with asthma use a peak flow meter to determine the severity of their attack. This is a small and portable device that can help measure how much air you are able to push out of your lungs. During an attack, you can blow into the device. It will give you a reading. Ideally, the measurement, called your peak expiratory flow reading, should fall between 100% to 80% of your normal reading. If your reading is 50% or lower, you are experiencing a severe asthma attack. Again, if this is the case, you need to seek immediate emergency medical help.

Asthma Attack Action Plan

With the onset of an asthma attack, you are often instructed to take two to six puffs of your rescue or fast-acting inhaler. This should expand your airways and relieve the issue. For small children, a device called a nebulizer may be used to turn the air into a mist or liquid. If you have not noticed any improvements after 20 minutes, take another round of the medication.

If you begin to have trouble speaking, have severe shortness of breath, or a low peak flow meter reading, head to the closest emergency room. In the ER, they will be able to provide other medication to halt the attack, as well as pump oxygen into your lungs.

Recovery often depends on the severity of the attack. Many small asthma attacks last only a couple of minutes. Severe attacks may persist for hours or days. After any attack, you should visit your doctor. You will need to discuss adjustments to your medication and make changes where necessary to prevent future incidents.

Prevent an Attack Before it Happens

Ideally, you want to find ways to prevent an asthma attack before it happens. Try to avoid known triggers and take your medication as instructed. Sometimes, this might not be enough. This is where an asthma action plan comes in. Know what to do during an attack. It could potentially save your or your loved one’s life.

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