If you suffer from asthma, you probably know what an asthma attack is, and how potentially debilitating it can be — an asthma attack is a sudden worsening of the symptoms, caused by muscles tightening around the airway and thicker mucus being produced. The disease affects around 20 million people in the United States to some degree; of which almost 50% are children. And it’s also responsible for around 5,000 deaths every year.
The attack can be triggered by several different things, although it is usually caused by allergens, such as dust, pollen or smoke. Dogs and cats and even some glossy oil paints can trigger an attack. Warning signs of an attack can vary from coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath to heavy breathing, and usually occur sometime before an actual asthma attack. Warning signs can also vary — and sufferers may experience different symptoms.
Although there are several different symptoms of an asthma-attack, it isn’t always easy to determine if it is an attack, or something else. A sufferer can go for several weeks or months without having any asthma attack symptoms — only to have it re-surface when least expected. The symptoms can also be triggered by changes in the weather, an excess of pollen, or a bout of the flu. Even stress or unaccustomed exercise can trigger an asthma attack.
Common symptoms include wheezing, coughing and a shortness of the breath, although these symptoms on their own don’t necessarily indicate an asthma-attack. Sufferers can also experience pressure or pain around the chest, a general feeling of anxiety or panic; and very rapid breathing. If you are having such signs, you may find it difficult to talk; you may also develop a bluish color around the fingernails and lips; and have a pale sweaty face.
A severe attack is known as status asthmaticus and is potentially fatal; if you suspect you or someone around you has these symptoms, you should seek medical help immediately. Symptoms are often more pronounced than those of a regular attack; sufferers find it difficult to breathe even when lying down, have an inability to focus or concentrate and have a bluish tint around the lips. A severe attack-of-asthma often occurs with little or no warning.
Unfortunately, this disease cannot be completely cured or prevented, but it is also good to know that it can be controlled. Treatment of asthma falls generally into one of two types — medication for quick relief; and medication for long term control of airway inflammation. Quick relief medications can be inhaled or taken orally; their main purpose is to relax the bronchial smooth muscle. Long term treatment of the disease usually involves taking medication daily, which opens the airway and helps to reduce inflammation.
Asthma can be dangerous; at the very least, it’s a nuisance having to take medication on a regular basis. If you are a sufferer, always follow the advice of your doctor in controlling this dangerous disease, and to hold down the frequency of unnecessary attack. Prevention is better than cure.