Asthma attack: Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

Asthma attack: Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment

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.

Causes of Asthma Attack

An overly sensitive immune system makes your airways (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and swollen when you're exposed to certain triggers. Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Common asthma attack triggers include:

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

  • Pollen, pets, mold and dust mites
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Exercise
  • Inhaling cold, dry air
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
For many people, asthma symptoms get worse with a respiratory infection such as a cold. Some people have asthma flare-ups caused by something in their work environment. Sometimes, asthma attacks occur with no apparent cause.

People who have asthma spend a lot of time learning what triggers they are most sensitive to. Once they learn what triggers their asthma, they can plan how to avoid these things and breathe easier in the meantime.

Types of asthma attack

Mild Asthma Attack

  • coughing
  • a soft wheeze
  • minor difficulty in breathing

Moderate Asthma Attack

  • able to speak only in shortened sentences
  • persistent cough
  • loud wheeze
  • obvious difficulty in breathing.

Severe Asthma Attack

  • unable to speak more than a few words per breath
  • being very distressed and anxious
  • wheeze may be absent
  • gasping for breath
  • pale and sweaty
  • may have blue lips
  • sucking in of skin over ribs/throat.

Asthma Attack Symptoms and Signs

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 pain or pressure
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions
  • Difficulty talking
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Or worsening symptoms despite use of your medications

Early warning signs of an asthma attack include:

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

  • Frequent cough, especially at night
  • Reduced peak flow meter readings
  • Losing your breath easily or shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired or weak when exercising
  • Wheezing or coughing during or after exercise (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Feeling tired, easily upset, grouchy, or moody
  • Decreases or changes in lung function as measured on a peak flow meter
  • Signs of a cold or allergies (sneezing, runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, and headache)
  • Trouble sleeping with nighttime asthma
The severity of an asthma attack can escalate rapidly, so it's important to treat these symptoms immediately once you recognize them.

Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack vary from person to person. Work with your doctor to identify your particular signs and symptoms of worsening asthma — and what to do when they occur. If your asthma symptoms keep getting worse even after you take medication as your doctor directed, you may need a trip to the emergency room. Your doctor can help you learn to recognize an asthma emergency so that you'll know when to get help.

What happens in an asthma attack?

Because of asthma’s chronic, low-grade inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tube lining, airways can become "twitchy" and narrowed in response to certain triggers. During an asthma attack, the muscles that surround the bronchial tubes contract, further narrowing the air passages.

With worsening of asthma, inflammation of the lining of the airways increases and produces swelling and further reduces airway size. In addition, glands in the lining of the air passages secrete excess mucus that accumulates in the already narrowed air passages. Air is trapped behind the narrowed bronchial tubes and there is a decrease in the oxygen available to the body. The result is that breathing, especially exhaling, becomes extremely noisy.

What should be done during an attack?

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma
Always follow the instructions of a physician. People with asthma should have an action plan for dealing with an acute attack. In general, it is important to stay calm and take prescribed medications. Quick-relief medications, including short-acting, rapid-onset inhaled beta2-agonist bronchodilators, anticholinergics and systemic corticosteroids are used to treat asthma attacks and are taken on an as-needed basis. They relieve symptoms rapidly by relaxing the muscles surrounding the airways, helping to open the bronchial tubes.

How long does an asthma attack last?

The duration of an asthma attack can vary according to the type of trigger that caused it and how long the airways have been inflamed. While mild episodes may last only a few minutes, more severe episodes can last from hours to days. Mild attacks can resolve spontaneously or may require medication. More severe attacks can be shortened with appropriate asthma treatment.

When to see the doctor

If your asthma flares up, immediately follow the treatment steps you and your doctor worked out ahead of time in your written asthma plan. If your symptoms and peak expiratory flow (PEF) readings improve, home treatment may be all that's needed. If your symptoms don't improve with home treatment, you may need to seek emergency care.

When your asthma symptoms flare up, follow your written asthma plan's instructions for using your quick-acting (rescue) inhaler. If you use a peak flow meter to monitor your asthma, PEF readings ranging from 50 to 79 percent of your personal best are a sign you need to use quick-acting (rescue) medications prescribed by your doctor.

What Happens if an Asthma Attack Goes Untreated?

Without immediate asthma medicine and asthma treatment, your breathing will become more labored, and wheezing may get louder. If you use a peak flow meter during an asthma attack, your reading will probably be less than your personal best.

As your lungs continue to tighten during the asthma attack, you will be unable to use the peak flow meter at all. Gradually, your lungs will tighten so much during the asthma attack that there is not enough air movement to produce wheezing. This is sometimes called the "silent chest," and it is a dangerous sign. You may need to be taken to a hospital immediately with a severe asthma attack. Unfortunately, some people interpret the disappearance of wheezing during the asthma attack as a sign of improvement and fail to get prompt emergency care.

If you do not receive adequate treatment for an asthma attack, you will eventually be unable to speak and will develop a bluish coloring around your lips. This color change, known as "cyanosis," means you have less and less oxygen in your blood. Without immediate aggressive treatment in an emergency room or intensive care unit, you may lose consciousness and eventually die.

Asthma Attack Treatment

If you're having an asthma attack, follow the steps in the asthma plan you worked out with your doctor. If your symptoms don't improve, seek immediate medical care.

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

Asthma can be quite frightening and certain steps need to be taken to avoid complications. The treatment is simple but its timing is very important. One must identify what triggers one's asthma such as pollen, dust, smoke etc. Hence, it is best to stay away from areas which can trigger the attack. Also some people are more prone to attacks during particular season, this can be avoided by taking extra care.

Treatment for Asthma Attack: Without Inhaler

To treat asthma without inhalers, first thing one must do is to identify the symptoms. The sooner one identifies the symptoms, the better. The next thing to do is to distance yourself from the asthma trigger. Sit in a well ventilated place and do not panic. Try and breathe slowly, if you find it difficult to breathe, calm yourself to bring the heart rate down. Take a paper bag or something similar and try breathing with that.

If you have an anti-allergic medicine or an asthma medication with you, then take the medication. Once the breathing gets relatively easier, try to get an inhaler. Remember to always carry it with you, no matter what. The best way to treat asthma is to not panic yourself or make the patient panic, especially during an attack in a child.

Emergency Treatment for Asthma Attack

If you go to the emergency room for an asthma attack in progress, you'll need medications to get your asthma under immediate control. These can include:

  • Short-acting beta agonists, such as albuterol. These medications are the same medications as those in your quick-acting (rescue) inhaler. You may need to use a machine called a nebulizer, which turns the medication into a mist that can be inhaled deep into your lungs.
  • Oral corticosteroids. Taken in pill form, these medications help reduce lung inflammation and get your asthma symptoms under control. For more-severe asthma attacks, corticosteroids can be given intravenously.
  • Ipratropium (Atrovent). Ipratropium is sometimes used as a bronchodilator to treat a severe asthma attack, especially if albuterol is not fully effective.
  • Intubation, mechanical ventilation and oxygen. If your asthma attack is life-threatening, your doctor may put a breathing tube down your throat into your upper airway. Using a machine that pumps oxygen into your lungs will help you breathe while your doctor gives you medications to get your asthma under control.

After your asthma symptoms get better, your doctor may want you to stay in the emergency department for a few hours or longer to make sure you don't have another asthma attack. When your doctor feels your asthma is sufficiently under control, you'll be able to go home. Your doctor will give you instructions on what to do if you have another asthma attack.

If your asthma symptoms don't improve after emergency treatment, your doctor may admit you to the hospital and give you medications every hour or every few hours. If you're having severe asthma symptoms, you may need to breathe oxygen through a mask. In some cases, a severe, persistent asthma attack requires a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Home Remedies for Asthma Attack, Natural Asthma Attack Treatment at home

There are many home remedies for asthma. If one detects the onset of an attack, then drinking something hot like black coffee or soup can really help the person. Some people greatly benefit by increasing vitamin C, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 intake in their diet which help to prevent the attack. Reducing the intake of salt also helps in the same way.

Hot honey and ginger also help clear the passage ways, and since the throat is clear, breathing is much easier. Of the many home remedies is inhaling the fumes of juniper oil dissolved in hot water for some instant relief. Mixture of mustard oil and camphor, if rubbed on the back also helps during an attack. Caffeine helps in clearing the airways, so drinking coffee is a good idea.

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

Ice packs under the arm can help reduce the inflamed lungs and bring breathing back to a normal pace. Be sure not to apply them directly to the skin. Wrap the packs around under the arm and across the chest. My daughter hates this one but if they are really worked up this brings breathing down quickly.

Hot and moist can help. If you have a humidifier, crank it up to the highest setting in a small room with the child. Back before wonder drugs people would turn the hot shower on and put their kid in the bathroom as a treatment. This one is great for when you are on vacation. A sink running hot water with a towel over their head also works well.

Throwing up is normal. They cough and hack and can't get a breath. When you vomit it clears your throat of mucus. Don't try to stop them it will help and can buy you up to an hour to get them to the hospital. The only concern is making sure they are upright and tipped over so that they don't choke or aspirate. Aspirating vomit occurs when they inhale the substance and can cause pneumonia.

This is a quick run through for asthma treatment. The sooner these acts can be put into action the better.
  • Make the person sit in a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors.
  • Administer the inhaler puffs.
  • Give asthma medication or anti-allergic medicine.
  • Distance the person from the cause of the attack.
  • If the symptoms don't go away, visit a physician or call 911 in case of an acute attack
The best treatment is to stay extra careful around the seasons in which you are most prone to an attack. Remember to always keep your inhaler handy.

Asthma attack what to do

What to do if you have an asthma attack

Current guidelines for children and adults having an asthma attack are to:

  • take your reliever inhaler (usually blue) straight away and try to breathe deeply and steadily
  • sit down and loosen any tight clothing
  • if your symptoms haven't improved after five minutes, or you're worried, call 999 or see a doctor urgently
  • continue to take a puff of your reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives

Friends and family with asthma attack

Asthma attack Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Treatment and Home Remedies for Asthma

It’s important that friends and family know how to help in an emergency. Asthma UK provides a free Asthma Attack Card, which helps you to recognise an asthma attack, and explains what to do.
This includes helping the person having the attack to sit up comfortably, talking to them to calm them, helping them to use their reliever treatment, and calling for help if their condition doesn't improve.

Preventing attacks

Most people who have asthma attacks will have warning signs for a few days before the attack. These include having to use your blue reliever inhaler more often; changes in your peak flow meter readings, and increased symptoms, such as waking up in the night.

Don't ignore these warning signs, as they indicate that your asthma control is poor and you risk having a severe attack.

Follow your personal asthma action plan. If your symptoms continue to get worse, make an urgent appointment to see your doctor or asthma nurse.

Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency.

After an attack