What is an asthma attack?
When breathing passages become irritated or infected, an asthma attack is triggered. Asthma attacks do not always occur immediately after someone is exposed to a trigger. Depending on the person and the particular trigger, an attack can happen hours or even days later. It may occur during either the day or night. Asthma attacks may last anywhere from a few minutes to days. The more inflammation there is then the longer the attack will last. Attacks which last for days can be
hazardous for a number of reasons: the person is unlikely to maintain adequate nutrition and fluid levels; oxygen levels may become dangerously low and carbon dioxide levels may get dangerously high.
An asthma attack occurs when the small and medium-sized airways become inflamed and constricted after being exposed to a trigger. When an asthma attack occurs, an asthma trigger enters the airways and goes from the trachea (windpipe) into a series of smaller tubes called the bronchi and bronchioles. The tissues inside these tubes become inflamed. The muscles on the outside of the airways tighten up, causing the airways to narrow. Then mucous enters the airways, and the airways become swollen. This swelling causes the airways to narrow even more.
When people with asthma are exposed to their triggers, their immune systems start trying to fight off the allergens. This results in inflammation (swelling) of the walls or lining of the air passages that blocks or narrows the airways. This makes breathing difficult (like breathing through a straw for a long time) and noisy, and/or it causes coughing.
Exposure to a trigger causes the body to produce increased amounts of a number of substances that occur naturally in everyone’s lungs. Increased amounts of these substances contribute to the swelling and the narrowing of the air passages. One type of these substances is called leukotrienes. Leukotrienes have been associated with symptoms of asthma. When a person has an asthma attack, the airways become narrowed. Shortness of breath and other breathing problems are the result. The symptoms are almost always temporary and easily controlled. But sometimes the attacks are severe, and in some cases, emergency treatment is necessary. Asthma symptoms vary in severity from occasional mild bouts of breathlessness to daily wheezing that persists despite taking large doses of medication. Asthma can be a dangerous condition because it interferes with gas exchange, and can therefore stop the continuous supply of oxygen and the removal of excess carbon dioxide. Without effective treatment during an attack, exhaustion may worsen respiratory function, and in rare cases, a life-threatening situation known as status asthmaticus can occur.
People with asthma react in different ways to risk factors and triggers. Some experience asthma symptoms when they are exposed to several factors or triggers at once, while for others exposure to one trigger alone is enough to set off an attack. Some people have more severe attacks when they are exposed to more than one trigger. The main asthma symptom is wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling, hissing sound when breathing. This noise is made by the sound of air passing through narrowed tubes (air passages). Wheezes can occur during inhaling or exhaling but are usually heard while exhaling. Other symptoms include breathlessness, chest tightness or pain, coughing, difficulty speaking, prolonged shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue.
More information on asthma
What is asthma? - Asthma is a chronic inflammatory respiratory disease characterized by periodic attacks of wheezing, shortness of breath, and a tight feeling in the chest.
What types of asthma are there? - Types of asthma include child-onset asthma, adult-onset asthma, exercise-induced asthma, cough-variant asthma, occupational asthma, nocturnal asthma.
What's bronchial asthma? - Bronchial asthma is a disease of the lungs in which an obstructive ventilation disturbance of the respiratory passages evokes a feeling of shortness of breath.
What is exercise-induced asthma? - Exercise-induced asthma is a form of asthma that some people have during or after physical activity. Exercise-induced asthma is common.
What is adult-onset asthma? - Adult onset asthma generally is the onset of asthma for the first time in someone of middle age or older. Adult-onset asthma develops after age 20.
What is status asthmaticus? - Status asthmaticus is a severe asthma episode that does not respond to standard treatment. Status asthmaticus is caused by severe bronchospasm.
What causes asthma? - Asthma is caused by inhaling an allergen that sets off the chain of biochemical and tissue changes leading to airway inflammation, bronchoconstriction, and wheezing.
What're the asthma triggers? - Many risk factors have been linked to triggering asthma attacks. There are two basic types of asthma triggers, allergic triggers, non-allergic triggers.
Asthma and allergy - Asthma attacks (worsening of asthma symptoms) can be triggered by allergies. Allergy is the leading cause of asthma.
What is an asthma attack? - An asthma attack occurs when the small and medium-sized airways become inflamed and constricted after being exposed to a trigger.
Asthma in children - Asthma is the most common chronic condition of childhood. Asthma symptoms can interfere with many school activities for children.
Asthma and pregnancy - During pregnancy, asthma or asthma episodes will become worse for an estimated one-third of pregnant women, particularly women who have severe asthma.
Asthma in adults and older people - Identifying asthma in the elderly can be difficult because asthma symptoms can be confused with symptoms of heart or lung diseases.
What're the complications of asthma? - Uncontrolled asthma in pregnant women puts them at higher risk for complications that can include early labor, hypertension, gestational diabetes.
What are the symptoms of asthma? - The symptoms of asthma include labored breathing, constriction of the chest, coughing and gasping usually brought on by allergies.
What're the warning signs of asthma? - Most people with asthma have warning signs before symptoms appear. There are many warning signs of an asthma episode.
How is asthma diagnosed? - The diagnosis of asthma is made on the basis of typical symptoms and signs. Positive allergy tests support a diagnosis of asthma.
What're the treatments for asthma? - Treatment of asthma is aimed at avoiding known allergens and respiratory irritants and controlling symptoms and airway inflammation through medication.
What quick relief (rescue) medications cure asthma? - Short-acting beta-agonists are the most commonly used asthma rescue medications. Anticholinergics are another class of asthma drugs.
Long-term asthma control medications - Combinations of steroids and other medications are effective for both treating and preventing asthma attacks in patients with moderate to severe asthma.
What're asthma inhalers? - Most asthma drugs are inhaled using special devices or nebulizers. Two common types include dry powder asthma inhalers and metered-dose asthma inhalers.
What're asthma nebulizers? - Asthma nebulizers can be used with all classes of inhaled medications but are most commonly used with short-acting beta2 agonists and ipratropium bromide.
How to control acute asthma attacks? - Acute asthma is an acute exacerbation of wheezing, unresponsive to usually effective therapy and necessitating care in an emergency room or hospital ward.
How to manage chronic asthma symptoms? - The aims of management are to recognize asthma, to abolish symptoms, to restore normal or best possible long term airway function.
What asthma relievers are available? - Asthma reliever is a drug that provides relief from asthma symptoms and is the most commonly used asthma medication.
What asthma preventers are available? - Asthma preventers are to be used twice a day regardless of whether your child has symptoms of asthma.
What's the treatment for childhood asthma? - The goals of asthma therapy are to prevent child from having chronic and troublesome symptoms, to maintain child's lung function.
What's the treatment for asthma in the elderly? - Diagnosis and treatment of asthma can be more complicated in people age 65 and older than in those who are younger.
What can be done to prevent asthma? - Avoiding known allergens and respiratory irritants can reduce asthma symptoms. People with asthma should minimize risk for respiratory tract infections.