Sometimes, no matter how careful you are about taking your asthma medicines and avoiding your triggers, you may find that you have an asthma attack. Anyone can have an asthma attack, even if you have mild asthma, with only occasional symptoms.
What is an asthma attack?
When you have an asthma attack, just as with your asthma symptoms, the inner linings of your airways become more and more swollen and inflamed, leaving less room in your airways for the air to get through. The muscles around the airways tighten up more and more which narrows the airways further. The mucous glands in your airways may produce lots more sticky mucous which further block the narrowed airways.
All these responses make it much harder for you to breathe and may also make you cough and wheeze and feel very short of breath. You may also find that you need to breathe faster than normal. In a severe attack, your airways can narrow so much that not enough oxygen can get into the blood, which can be dangerous. This type of attack is a medical emergency and requires urgent medical attention. Whilst it's very unusual, it's important to know that people can sometimes die from an asthma attack.
Whilst this may seem frightening there are things that you can do to prevent an asthma attack. Asthma attacks don't usually come out of the blue but are the result of gradually worsening symptoms that take time to develop - usually over a number of days. Most asthma attacks are preventable if you spot the early warning signs and take action.
Sometimes, however, no matter how careful you are at taking regular preventer medicine and avoiding asthma triggers, you may have a flare up of your asthma and be at risk of having an asthma attack. Talking all this through with your doctor or asthma nurse and having an asthma action plan will help you to have all the right information to help keep you well and reduce your risk of an asthma attack.
What does an asthma attack feel like?
People tell us that having asthma can feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest, or that they are breathing through a straw and that it can be frightening.
Warning signs are different for everyone and they may be different for you at different times. If you know your warning signs and act on them quickly you are more likely to avoid a serious asthma attack. Talk with your doctor or asthma nurse to find out what your warning signs are.
Signs of an asthma attack
It's really important not to ignore worsening symptoms
Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack are:
- Your reliever isn't helping or lasting over four hours
- Your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
- You're too breathless or it's difficult to speak, eat or sleep
- Your breathing may get faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly
- Children may complain of a tummy ache.
What to do in an asthma attack
You may find it helpful to take our Triple A Test to see if you are at risk of an asthma attack.
Click here to read more
Do you have Your Asthma action plan?
If you use an asthma action plan you are four times less likely to have an attack that requires emergency hospital treatment. Fill this in with your GP or asthma nurse. It will help you to know what medicines to take and when, how to recognise when your asthma symptoms change and what to do when this happens.
Click here to download Your Asthma action plan or click here to learn more.