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Managing an Asthma Attack

Asthma symptoms typically “come and go” depending on the disease severity and exposure to the triggers. Ideally, every asthmatic patient should have an asthma action plan developed by their doctor.

All asthmatic patients should be able to manage mild to moderate asthma attacks at home by following the asthma action plan. They should remember their asthma action plan.

Asthma attacks will become more frequent when asthma is not under control. The severity of an asthma attack may range from mild to life threatening. Deterioration usually progresses over hours or days, but it may also occur suddenly.

Death can occur in severe asthma attacks especially in the patients who have not received sufficient treatment or adequate guidance from their doctor and nurses.

What is an asthma attack?

Asthma attacks are episodes of rapidly progressive increase in breathlessness, cough, wheezing, chest tightness, or a combination of these symptoms. In other words, respiratory distress symptoms get worse during asthma attack.

What are the symptoms & signs?

Asthma symptoms may progress to an emergency situation quickly. The symptoms are unique to each child. During asthma attacks, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Coughing with or without cold.
  • Chesty.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Difficulty in breathing.
  • Wheezing.

Warning signs:

  • Non-stop coughing.
  • Severe wheezing.
  • Severe difficulty in breathing.
  • Difficult to talk in sentences.
  • Restless sleep.
  • Chest pain.
  • Poor or pale skin colour.
  • Decreased conscious level.
  • Blue lips or fingernails.

A peak flow meter can be useful in predicting asthma attack if your child knows how to use it.

What should you do during an asthma attack?

  • Follow your asthma action plan.
  • Sit your child up and stay calm.
  • Get help from people around you.
  • For mild attacks, give your child reliever medication (4-6 puffs) every 4 – 6 hours depending on the symptoms.
  • If reliever medication is needed more frequent than 4 hourly, take your child to the clinic or hospital to see doctor.
  • Continue the regular preventer medication.

How to prevent asthma attacks?

  • Take all medications as prescribed by the doctor.
  • The patient must carry the rescue medicine with him at all times.
  • Avoid triggers.
  • To take exercise-induced asthma prevention medication (reliever) before exercise as prescribed by doctor.
  • Take peak flow meter readings as recommended by doctor.
  • Initiate reliever medication when having mild symptoms.

What are the complications?

  • Death.
  • Brain damage caused by prolonged lack of oxygen to the brain.
Last reviewed : 26 April 2012
Content Writer : Dr. Norrashidah Hj. Abd Wahab
  : Dr. Nor Mahani Harun
Reviewer : Dr. Norzila bt. Mohamed Zainudin