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 include episodes of:
Tightness or pressure in the chest
Shortness of breath
Wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when exhaling)
Coughing, especially at night
Early warning signs of the onset of an asthma attack include:
Signs of a cold
Frequent cough, especially at night
The need to use a rescue inhaler
Losing your breath easily (exercise-induced bronchospasm)
A decrease in lung function, as measured by a spirometer or peak flow m...
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.