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Health Journey Support | Know the Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack

People with asthma have highly sensitive airways that can become inflamed and narrowed when they breathe in certain substances. This brochure describes the symptoms of an asthma attack and what can trigger them.

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This information is intended for US Consumers

Know the Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack

People with asthma have highly sensitive airways that can become inflamed and narrowed when they breathe in certain substances. If you or a loved one has asthma, it's important to know how to recognize the symptoms of an asthma attack and what can trigger them.

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What is an asthma attack?

If you have asthma, you always have it, but may not always notice symptoms. If your asthma symptoms suddenly worsen or you have more of them, making it difficult to breathe, you may be experiencing an asthma exacerbation, commonly called an asthma attack.

One or more of these symptoms may mean you are having an asthma attack

Coughing, which may disturb your sleep, as it often occurs at night or in the early morning.

Wheezing, which is a whistling sound made when you breathe.

Shortness of breath. You may feel you can't catch your breath, feel out of breath, or feel that you can't get the air out of your lungs.

Tightening in your chest. Your chest may seem as if it is being squeezed or has a heavy weight on it.

What Can Trigger an Asthma Attack?

The substances you breathe in, that can cause or worsen your asthma symptoms, are called triggers. Knowing your asthma triggers may help you to avoid them and help prevent having asthma attacks as often.

Common Asthma Triggers

Allergens

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Dust mites. Use mattress covers and pillowcases on your beds and always wash them in hot water. Don't use pillows, quilts, or comforters filled with feathers (down).

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Pet dander. If you have a pet with fur, vacuum and wet mop often. Bathe your pet weekly and keep it out of the bedroom.

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Cockroach droppings. Clean areas often where food is prepared or eaten, and use roach traps or gels to reduce the number of cockroaches.

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Indoor Mold. Using a dehumidifier or air conditioner can help prevent mold from growing indoors.

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Pollens and outdoor mold. Stay indoors with windows closed from late morning to afternoon.

Irritants

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Tobacco smoke. Avoid second-hand smoke. If you smoke, QUIT!

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Outdoor air pollution due to traffic, industry, and other factors. Pay attention to air quality reports in your area.

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Wood and grass smoke. Don't burn wood in your home. Avoid outside activities if possible, when there are wildfires reported in your area.

Other Triggers

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Cold weather, exercise, respiratory illnesses, medicines, sulfites in foods, and fragrances may also trigger asthma attacks.

Triggers can differ between people with asthma, so some of the triggers listed above may not affect you, or you may experience other triggers not listed.

Treat symptoms right away

Treating asthma symptoms when you first notice them can help prevent them from becoming worse and causing an asthma attack.

It helps to have an action plan so you know the steps to take at the first sign of worsening asthma symptoms. As soon as you notice asthma symptoms, or your peak flow number nears your danger zone, take your quick-relief medicine as directed by your doctor.

Step 1:
Use your quick-relief inhaler

Always carry a rescue inhaler. A rescue inhaler contains medicine that quickly relaxes your airways, allowing air to flow easily through them.

Have your doctor explain to you how and when to use your rescue inhaler, before you need it. You should not use quick relief inhalers in place of long-term medication.

Step 2:
Avoid your asthma triggers


Step 3:
Know when you need to get emergency care

Call your doctor if

  • Your rescue medication is not working.
  • Your peak flow drops to below your normal range, as defined by your doctor.

Call 911 for emergency care if

  • It's difficult to walk and talk because you are out of breath.
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A peak flow meter can help you know if your breathing is getting worse, even before you notice symptoms of an asthma attack or worsening of asthma control. The small, hand-held meter measures how well air is flowing out of your lungs when you breathe and provides you with a score, or peak flow number. If your score shows that your breathing is getting worse, you may be at risk of having an asthma attack. Your doctor will teach you how and when to take your medicines based on your score.