Asthmatic Attacks A First Aid Guide

What Is Asthma? Digital image. WebMd. N.p., 16 June 2016. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

What is an asthmatic attack?

An asthmatic attack, or asthma attack is when one's asthma symptoms suddenly flare up. It is caused by the airways tightening and becoming inflamed, thicker mucus is found within the airways. Symptoms of an attack include, difficult breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness if breath, trouble speaking, pressure in the lungs and chest, and one's finger tips or lips turning blue. Mild attacks are more common than severe or emergency asthma attacks.

Asthma Airways. Digital image. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 7 Feb. 2017. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Who do asthma attacks affect?

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are over 3,000,000 cases of asthma in the US alone. More boys than girls have asthma, however more women than men have asthma. Smokers or people who live with a smoker that have asthma are more likely to have asthma attacks. Black and multi-racial adults are also more prone to asthmatic attacks. Most asthma attacks happen during exposure to a trigger, an allergen that causes the flare up.

Asthma. Rochester, MN: Mayo Clinic, 7 Feb. 2017. PDF.

This graph shows how many people in the US suffer from asthma by age.

How to treat and address asthma attacks?

Mild Attacks- In the event of a mild asthma attack, take 2-6 puffs from a "Quick Acting" or "Rescue" inhaler. This gets the airway to expand. Repeat every 20 minutes until the attack subsides. For small children who have trouble with an inhaler, use a nebulizer.

Severe Attacks- If a patient experiences a severe attack, with symptoms such as difficulty speaking, take 6 puffs of medication and get to an urgent care or doctors office immediately. In some circumstances, a doctor may ask you to repeat puffs every 3-4 hours for a day or two after the attack.

Emergency Attacks- When an attack is specifically dangerous, the patient should get to the emergency room ASAP. A doctor may use a medication called Oral Corticosteroids. These are pills that are meant to reduces inflammation and mucus within the airway.

Without an Inhaler- For someone with asthma, it is always important to have an inhaler on you at all times; however, in the case that one is out of reach, there are a few tips to treat an asthmatic attack in your own. First of all, sit upright. Lying down can constrict the lungs. Take long breaths to prevent hyperventilating. Get away from allergens or triggers (smoke, dust, pollen, etc. ). Antother tip is to drink a hot caffeinated drink. This helps open the airways until you can get medication. Most importantly, stay calm. Panic can cause shortness of breath and make the attack worse. Keep in mind that these methods are ONLY if you are without your inhaler. It is important to use proper methods for treatment.

Treatment Awareness by Age. Digital image. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health Interview Survey, 3 May 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

This graph presents how many children or adults are taught to identify and respond to an asthma attack. Understanding the symptoms of an attack and how to treat them can save a life.

How to prevent asthma attacks?

There is no way to get rid of asthma attacks completely, but, there are many ways to prevent them. Try to "dust proof" your home, changing the bedding frequently, and vacuuming carpets weekly. This prevents dust and allergens from building up and can lower the risk of an asthma attack at home. Another tip that goes for nearly every illness, don't smoke. It is important for people who suffer from asthma to live and work in smoke free environments as well. Once again, have an inhaler on you at ALL times. Coughing at night, having a hard time sleeping, and shortness of breath can signal an upcoming attack.

How common are asthma attacks?

It is hard to tell exactly how common asthma attacks are, but, generally speaking, mild attacks are usually more common. Some patients may go a while until an attack, some get them whenever they are exposed to triggers or after intense physical activity. Although severe and emergency attacks are less common, they take longer to treat and call for medical help. Treating symptoms for mild attacks can prevent severe and more serious episodes.

How did science play a role in solving the problem?

Doctors and medical specialists used science to determine what types of medications open the airways during an attack. They also use science to reduce indoor allergens and attack symptoms. With this research, some scientists reduced cockroach allergens by 84%. Doctors also used simple science and common sense to find that changing bedding, vacuuming and steam cleaning carpets reduces dust allergens. At the Colombia Center for Children's Environmental Health, researchers found that children born in areas of smoke and pollution were more likely to have asthma and suffer from more frequent attacks.

Joseph Bovier, Dr. Asthma. Digital image. Health Tap. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.


WebMD's editors are all doctors. They work very closely with doctors nationwide. The chief editor, Dr. Michael W. Smith, MD, is a member of American College of Physicians and the HealthLeaders Media Council.

This PDF is published by the Mayo Clinic. Dr. James T C Li, M.D., Ph. D. is in charge of the asthma section. The chief medical editor Sandhya Pruthi, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. She also a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.

Each article at Singapore Health is reviewed and/or by written by doctors at Singapore General Hospital or healthcare professionals. SingHealth has 42 clinical specialties, 2 hospitals, 5 specialty centers, 9 Polyclinics and a community hospital.

The "Asthma" articles on Mayo Clinic are written by Dr. James T C Li, M.D., Ph. D. He is a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and was honored by the ACAAI (American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology) and the AAAAI (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.)

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