In my experience working as a paramedic, I have occasionally come across asthma attacks. Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to move air in and out of one’s lungs. This is because the airways in the lungs are inflamed or swollen, which can result in a “trigger,” something in the environment that makes the lungs extra sensitive. This can include the weather, a cold, dust, smoke, pet dander, and more. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be managed so those that are afflicted with this disease can live a normal, healthy life.
There are times, however, when those with asthma are introduced to a trigger that results in a full-blown asthma attack, in which the airways become too tight to breathe effectively. The symptoms one would generally experience become escalated and challenging to manage. Symptoms of an asthma attack include:
- The reliever inhaler is ineffective, or effective for less than 4 hours.
- Wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, or tight feeling in the chest worsens.
- Difficulty speaking, eating, or sleeping due to breathlessness.
- Breathing becomes faster or feels as if can’t catch a breath.
These attacks can potentially be life-threatening. It is imperative to seek medical attention if these symptoms worsen.
Your medical provider should give you a written Asthma Action Plan, which describes what to do in the event of an asthma flare-up. Your plan should say who and when to call, based on your peak flow measurements and the type of symptoms you are having.
Immediate Steps to Take When Experiencing an Asthma Attack
If you and your medical provider have worked out an asthma plan, follow those directions at the first sign of an asthma attack.
- Do not lie down. Sit up straight and do your best to remain calm.
- Every 30 to 60 seconds, take one puff of a prescribed reliever or rescue inhaler, with a maximum of ten puffs (or as directed by your medical provider).
- If symptoms worsen or remain stagnant after ten puffs, seek medical attention.
- Repeat step 2 if it takes more than 15 minutes for help to arrive.
At Home Care for an Asthma Attack
Remaining calm is imperative when experiencing an asthma attack. The natural reaction of the body is to enter the “fight or flight” mode, which can worsen the symptoms. Utilizing breathing exercises can be beneficial to reduce the number of breaths and open up the airways to breathe easier.
Belly breathing: with hands placed on the belly, inhale through the nose. Relax the neck and shoulders and exhale. The exhale should be two to three times longer than the inhale.
Pursed lip breathing: inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips, with the exhale lasting two times longer than the inhale.