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Asthma Health Center

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Asthma Attack Symptoms and Warning Signs

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You may go for weeks or months without having a flare. But suddenly, your chest feels tight. You're coughing and wheezing a bit.

During an attack, the muscles in your airway tighten. Their lining gets swollen. They make more and thicker mucus. All of this makes it hard to breathe.

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When asthma symptoms are in high gear and the wheezing and coughing sets in, it's the inhaler to the rescue -- the rescue inhaler, to be exact. If you have asthma, your rescue inhaler should be among the first things you reach for when you leave the house, along with your wallet and car keys. How do rescue inhalers work, and why are they such a crucial part of managing asthma? WebMD consulted the experts to learn more about rescue inhalers, and the important role they play in asthma treatment.

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Early Warning Signs

Just before or at the very start of an attack, you may notice changes that can tip you off.

Follow the steps in your asthma action plan. You may be able to stop the episode or keep it from getting bad.

During an Attack

When symptoms flare, it might be hard for you to do normal, everyday things. You may have:

  • Short, shallow, fast breaths
  • A whistling sound when you breathe, especially out
  • A cough that won't go away
  • Squeezed feeling in your chest

Use your rescue inhaler. Try to stay calm.

When It Gets Worse

Symptoms can become severe. You're not getting better if you also:

  • Feel panic
  • Wheeze when you breathe both in and out
  • Can't stop coughing
  • Have trouble talking or walking
  • Get tight neck and chest muscles
  • Have a pale, sweaty face

Follow the "Red Zone" or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan. Call 911 or get to the hospital. You need medical attention right away.

After an Asthma Attack

You'll probably feel tired and worn out. For the next few days, you're more likely to have another flare, too. Pay attention for warning signs. Take care of yourself.

  • Follow your asthma action plan closely. Make sure you take your medications.
  • Use your peak flow meter.
  • Avoid your triggers.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on May 02, 2015
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