What exactly happens during an asthma attack?

By January 27, 2016Blog

Asthma attack infographic

Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs affecting the airways that carry air to and from your lungs. This disease narrows and inflames air passageways, making breathing difficult. There is no cure for asthma, but knowledge about what happens during an asthma attack and treatments can help patients better manage the disease and live normal lives.

People with asthma have inflamed airways, which carry air into and out of the lungs.  As inflammation causes the airways to become narrower, less air can pass through them. These airways are sensitive to irritants, and they can become more inflamed when exposed to triggers. 

Asthma is commonly divided into two types: allergic (extrinsic) asthma and non-allergic (intrinsic) asthma. Although asthma triggers vary from person to person based on if you have allergic asthma or non-allergic asthma, they both share common irritants.

Triggers for asthma attacks include:

  • Exercise  (not only exercise, but also laughing, crying, holding one’s breath, and hyperventilating)
  • Respiratory infections (colds, flu, sore throats)
  • Strong emotions (anger, fear or excitement)
  • Weather (dry wind, cold air)
  • Irritants in the air (smoke from cigarettes, wood fires, or charcoal grills. Also, strong fumes or odors like household sprays, paint, gasoline, perfumes, and scented soaps
  • Indoor substances (dust mites, pollens, molds, pet dander, and even cockroach droppings)
  • Some medications

So what happens during an asthma attack?

Once you are exposed to a certain trigger, your body releases substances that can cause inflammation in the airways. It then releases substances that can cause the muscles of the airways to tighten or become smaller and an increase in mucus production clogs the airways.  These changes continue to narrow the airways until breathing becomes difficult and stressful, like trying to breathe through a straw stuffed with cotton.

An asthma attack can come on gradually (after a cold) or quite quickly (exercise or pollen). It’s important to looks for signs such as wheezing, chest tightness, waking in the night and use of inhaler within a few hours.

If you or someone you know is having an attack, immediate and proper treatment is vital.

What to do during an asthma attack:

  • Stay calm
  • Sit upright
  • Take one or two puffs of the inhaler
  • Eliminate the trigger
  • Go over and follow your asthma action plan
  • Know when to call 911

If you have any questions or would like a check up visit your local Mississippi urgent care today.