An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by the tightening of muscles around your airways (bronchospasm). During the asthma attack, the lining of the airways also becomes swollen or inflamed and thicker mucus -- more than normal -- is produced. All of these factors -- bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production -- cause symptoms of an asthma attack such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and difficulty performing normal daily activities. Other symptoms of an asthma attack may include:
Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out
Coughing that won't stop
Very rapid breathing
Chest tightness or pressure
Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
Feelings of anxiety or panic
Pale, sweaty face
Blue lips or fingernails
Or worsening symptoms despite use of your medications
Asthma symptoms are like the weather -- they change often and may seem unpredictable. But also like the weather, careful tracking of asthma symptoms can help identify patterns and what they may say about your asthma control.
Research has shown that tracking and rating your asthma symptoms are key steps in successfully managing asthma. One study even found that it helps keep kids with childhood asthma out of the emergency room.
Most asthma action plans track your “peak flow” (measured by a portable,...
Some people with asthma may go for extended periods without having an asthma attack or other symptoms, interrupted by periodic worsening of their symptoms, due to exposure to asthma triggers or perhaps from overdoing it as in exercise-induced asthma.
Mild asthma attacks are generally more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours after treatment. Severe asthma attacks are less common but last longer and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms of an asthma attack to help you prevent severe episodes and keep asthma under control.