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The Signs & Symptoms of An Asthma Attack

January 30, 2011

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           Asthma is an incurable disease that affects the lungs and makes it difficult to breath. The muscles within the bronchi spasm, causing tightening around the airways. As the airway narrows it makes it difficult to breathe especially breathe out. Asthma can affect all ages, from kids all the way to adulthood. There are two types of asthma, which ultimately determines the cause of it. Asthma attacks can occur at anytime, any place and for any reason without any precursor. An asthma attack begins by three changes within the lungs, bronchospasms, inflammation and mucus production. These changes stimulate a chain reaction, which bring about the symptoms of an asthma attack. Everyone who experiences or has experienced an asthma attack have different frequency and severity of their symptoms.

            Every time an asthma attack occurs there are early warning signs that can depict the onset of an attack. People who suffer with asthma for a long time are able to pick up on these signs, however, young children or undiagnosed cases of asthma may not realize these early signs until they are in a full fledged asthma attack. Early warning signs start well before you experience the symptoms of asthma. They may not be severe enough to stop daily activity but should be noticeable enough to realize what is going on. Some early warning symptoms are the same as the symptoms of an actual asthma attack, however they will worsen if left untreated. Frequent coughing especially at night, shortness of breath and wheezing can be early warning signs of an asthma attack and worsen once the actual attack goes into effect. Feeling tired, weakness, moodiness, irritability, trouble sleeping, dark circles under your eyes, sneezing, runny nose, itchy chin, nasal congestion, sore throat and headache are all early signs of an asthma attack. Additionally decreased lung function, reduced peak flow meter readings and inability to exercise due to weakness or fatigue can signify a later asthma attack.

            People who suffer with asthma should always keep a peak flow meter on hand. Peak flow meters measure how fast the air is exhaled out of the lungs. Knowing your baseline peak flow is one way to manage your asthma and determine if an asthma attack is impending. If your baseline measurement moves between 50-80% of your personal best then this is a sign an asthma attack is imminent. If your measurement falls below 50% then your ability to breath in sufficient oxygen is greatly impaired and you should consider this an emergency and go to the hospital.  Recognizing early changes in your peak flow meter measurement is important to understand and predict when an asthma attack may occur.

            If you are unable to assess the early signs, symptoms can develop into an asthma attack. You may experience persistent coughing without the ability to stop, rapid breathing, chest pain or pressure, tightening of the neck and chest where the skin sinks in as you breath (retraction), difficulty talking, and inability to perform daily activities. As symptoms worsen anxiety or panic may set in, skin may become pale and sweaty, lips and fingertips can turn blue due to insufficient oxygen, inhaling and exhaling may become impossible, and the person may have a strained posture as they grasp for air. Eventually if the person doesn’t receive help from medication, inhaler, nebulizer, EMT’s or the ER, they may pass out from the lack of oxygen and could potentially die. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of an asthma attack are vital to both the health and wellness of people who suffer from asthma. Understanding both the early signs as well as the symptoms of an actual asthma attack can determine what type of treatment or medical procedure is necessary to put into action.

man with an inhaler, asthma attack