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What is an asthma attack: Symptoms, Causes, Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Treatments, and Prevention.


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What is an asthma attack:

What is an asthma attack: Symptoms, Causes, Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, Treatments, and Prevention.

What is an asthma attack: When you breathe normally, muscles around your airways are relaxed, letting air move easily and quietly.

During an asthma attack, three things can happen:

What is an asthma attack
Man coughing into his fist, isolated on a gray background

Bronchospasm: The muscles around the airways constrict (tighten). When they tighten, it makes your airways narrow. Air cannot flow freely through constricted airways.

Inflammation: The lining of your airways becomes swollen. Swollen airways don’t let as much air in or out of your lungs.

Mucus production: During the attack, your body creates more mucus. This thick mucus clogs the airways.

When your airways get tighter, you make a sound called wheezing when you breathe, a noise your airways make when you breathe out. You might also hear an asthma attack called an exacerbation or a flare-up. It’s the term for when your asthma isn’t controlled.

Asthma Meaning

Asthma, often known as bronchial asthma, is a respiratory disorder. It’s a chronic (continuing) ailment, which means it won’t go away and requires ongoing medical care.

Asthma now affects over 25 million individuals in the United States. This figure includes almost 5 million kids. If you don’t seek treatment for your asthma, it can be fatal.

Bronchial asthma (also known as asthma) is a lung condition. Excess mucus narrows and swells your airways, causing them to get clogged. These symptoms can be treated with medications.

Types of asthma

Asthma is broken down into types based on the cause and the severity of symptoms. Healthcare providers identify asthma as:

Intermittent: This type of asthma comes and goes so you can feel normal in between asthma flares.

Persistent: Persistent asthma means you have symptoms much of the time. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. Healthcare providers base asthma severity on how often you have symptoms. They also consider how well you can do things during an attack.

Allergic: Some people’s allergies can cause an asthma attack. Allergens include things like molds, pollens, and pet dander.

Non-allergic: Outside factors can cause asthma to flare up. Exercise, stress, illness, and weather may cause a flare.

Adult-onset: This type of asthma starts after the age of 18.

Pediatric: Also called childhood asthma, this type of asthma often begins before the age of 5, and can occur in infants and toddlers. Children may outgrow asthma. You should make sure that you discuss it with your provider before you decide whether your child needs to have an inhaler available in case, they have an asthma attack. Your child’s healthcare provider can help you understand the risks.

In addition, there are these types of asthma:

Occupational asthma: This type of asthma happens primarily to people who work around irritating substances.

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS): This type happens when you have both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both diseases make it difficult to breathe.

Exercise-induced asthma: This type is triggered by exercise and is also called exercise-induced bronchospasm.

What causes Asthma

Allergies, air pollution, and other airborne irritants are the most common asthma triggers; additional health factors include respiratory infections, exercise or physical activity, weather and air temperature, intense emotions, and some medications.

The causes of asthma differ from individual to individual. Some people are only affected by a few things, whereas others are affected by many.

If you have asthma, it is critical to keep note of the reasons or triggers that you know aggravate your condition. Because symptoms may not often appear immediately after exposure, this may necessitate some detective effort. Depending on the sort of trigger and how sensitive a person is to it, delayed asthma attacks may develop.

Allergies (Allergic Asthma)

Asthma can be triggered by allergens, substances that induce allergies. You could get asthma symptoms if you inhale anything to which you are allergic. To reduce or avoid asthma attacks, it is essential to minimize or avoid contact with recognized allergens.

The following are typical allergens that induce allergic asthma:

  • Pollen
  • Molds
  • Dust mites
  • Cockroaches
  • Animal allergens (pet dander)
  • Rodents

Irritants in the Air

Environmental irritants might potentially trigger an asthma attack. Despite not being allergens, these substances can irritate inflamed, sensitive airways:

Strong fumes, vapors, or odors (such as paint, gasoline, perfumes, and scented soaps)

Dust and particles in the air

Smoke from cigarettes and other tobacco or marijuana products

Air pollution such as smog, ozone, and others

Wood fires

Charcoal grills


Other Health Conditions

Asthma Risk Factors

Certain comorbid conditions can also compound the symptoms of asthma. (Comorbid means having two or more diseases at the same time.) These include:

  • Sulfites in food
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle or menopause
  • Obesity
  • Nasal polyps
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Colds
  • COVID-19 
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Food allergy and anaphylaxis 
  • Food-induced anaphylaxis (food allergy)
  • Pneumonia
  • Sinusitis or sinus infections
  • Sore throats
  • Rhinitis

What is an asthma attack: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments, and Prevention.

Feeling and Expressing Strong Emotions

  • Laughter
  • Yelling
  • Crying
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Excitement

Even if you don’t have asthma, your breathing alters when you experience powerful emotions. Anyone who has asthma may experience wheezing or other asthma symptoms as a result.

Learn more about how strong emotions cause stress and can worsen asthma.


Some medicines can also trigger asthma, such as:

Aspirin and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)

Medicines known as beta-blockers can also make asthma harder to control

Talk to your healthcare provider about your asthma and your triggers. Be sure to discuss any changes in your asthma management.

Exercise or Physical Activity

What is an asthma attack

Your asthma may be affected when you exercise and other activities that cause you to breathe more quickly. Exercise is a common asthma trigger, especially in cold weather.

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), which can affect both those with and without asthma, is brought on by physical exercise. It was once known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA).

Symptoms could not show up until after engaging in prolonged exercise for many minutes. (If symptoms start to show up earlier, you typically need to change your therapy.)

You won’t need to restrict your physical activity with the right care. Everyone, especially those with asthma, should exercise!


Thunderstorm asthma can affect people with asthma if a thunderstorm strikes during high pollen and high humidity. The lightning can hit pollen and break the grains into smaller pieces. Wind from the storm spreads these particles around, making it easier for people to inhale them. Dry wind, cold air, or sudden changes in weather or temperature can sometimes bring on an asthma episode.

What is an asthma attack: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments, and Prevention.

Asthma Pathophysiology

 It is the most common chronic disease in childhood, affecting an estimated 7 million children. The pathophysiology of asthma is complex and involves airway inflammation, intermittent airflow obstruction, and bronchial hyperresponsiveness. See the image below.

asthma pathophysiology

Asthma Diagnosis

The main tests used to help diagnose asthma are:

FeNO test – you breathe into a machine that measures the level of nitric oxide in your breath, which is a sign of inflammation in your lungs

peak flow test – you blow into a handheld device that measures how fast you can breathe out, and this may be done several times over a few weeks to see if it changes over time

spirometry – you blow into a machine that measures how fast you can breathe out and how much air you can hold in your lungs

After you’re diagnosed with asthma, you may also have a chest X-ray or allergy tests to see if your symptoms might be triggered by an allergy.

Asthma Treatment

These medications should only be used in the event of asthma symptoms or an attack. They provide quick relief to help you breathe again.


Bronchodilators work within minutes to relax the tightened muscles around your airwaves and decrease symptoms quickly.

Although they can be administered orally or injected, bronchodilators are most commonly taken with an inhaler (rescue) or nebulizer.

They can be used to treat sudden symptoms of asthma or taken before exercise to prevent a flare-up.

First aid asthma treatment

If you think that someone you know is having an asthma attack, tell them to sit upright and assist them in using their rescue inhaler or nebulizer.

The dosage will vary depending on the medication. Check the instructions insert to make sure you know how many puffs of medications you need in the event of an attack.

If symptoms persist for more than 20 minutes, and a second round of medication doesn’t help, seek emergency medical attention.

If you frequently need to use quick-relief medications, ask your doctor about another type of medication for long-term asthma control.

Long-term asthma control medications

These medications are taken daily to help reduce the number and severity of your asthma symptoms, but they don’t manage the immediate symptoms of an attack.

Long-term asthma control medications include:

Anti-inflammatories. Taken with an inhaler, corticosteroids, and other anti-inflammatory medications help reduce swelling and mucus production in your airways, making it easier to breathe.


This helps stop your muscles from tightening around your airways. They’re usually taken daily in combination with anti-inflammatories.

Long-acting bronchodilators. These should only be used in combination with anti-inflammatory asthma medications.

Bronchial thermoplasty

This treatment uses an electrode to the airways inside the lungs, helping to reduce the size of the surrounding muscle and prevent it from tightening.

This minimally invasive procedure is performed by a doctor in a clinic or hospital and usually takes around an hour.

Bronchial thermoplasty is intended for people with severe asthma and can provide relief from symptoms for up to.


Doctors use biologics to treat severe asthma that doesn’t respond to other medications or treatment by trigger control.

They work by targeting specific antibodies in your body. This disrupts the pathway that leads to asthma-causing inflammation.

There are five types of biologic medications on the market, and others in development. These medications need to be administered either by injection or by infusion in your doctor’s office.

However, because it’s a relatively new procedure, it’s not yet widely available.

What is an asthma attack: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments, and Prevention.


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