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An asthma attack is described as an episode of difficult breathing in a person with asthma. An attack can be caused by triggers such as cold air, exercise, or smoke. A person who is having an attack may experience wheezing, coughing, and/or difficulty breathing. With the proper medications, these episodes can be kept to a minimum.

What Is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack occurs when someone with asthma has an episode of difficult breathing. Normally, people with asthma do not experience symptoms that interfere with their daily lives. However, during an asthma attack, the symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning and can cause great discomfort. When someone experiences an asthma attack, immediate intervention is needed.

Causes of an Asthma Attack

People with asthma have sensitive airways that can become narrow in response to certain triggers. Common triggers include cold air, exercise, dust mites, pollen, smoke, and even catching a cold. When exposed to one or more of these triggers, a person with asthma may have a reaction that causes his or her airways to swell up and produce mucus, resulting in difficulty breathing. This is an asthma attack.

Symptoms of an Asthma Attack

A person who is having an asthma attack will typically have some or all the following symptoms:
  • Wheezing (breathing with a whistling sound)
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mucus production.
In more severe asthma attacks, these symptoms may also be present:
  • Anxiety (caused by the difficulty in breathing)
  • Use of the neck and chest muscles to breathe
  • Difficulty speaking in full sentences.
Warning signs that an asthma attack is very severe include:
  • Confusion
  • Unconsciousness
  • Blue skin color.
In these severe cases, the airway may be closed off completely. This is a medical emergency, and this person requires treatment right away.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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