How to Handle an Asthma Attack

Mom with worried facial expression holds inhaler out to grade-school-age girl clutching her chest, both sitting on a sofaBreathing is essential to survival, and it’s pretty much automatic—most of us rarely ever think about the air that we inhale and exhale thousands of times a day. So when you suddenly start wheezing, coughing, sweating, feeling tightness in your chest, and struggling to breathe, the signs of distress can be frightening, both to you and others around you. These are classic symptoms of an asthma attack, which is caused by a tightening of the muscles around your airways, known to medical professionals as a bronchospasm. People who have been diagnosed with asthma often carry a rescue inhaler, also called a bronchodilator, which is a device that allows them to breathe in medication that will expand their airways during an asthma attack.

But how do you handle an asthma attack if you’re caught without a rescue inhaler or the medication isn’t working?

Step One: Stay Calm

An asthma attack often induces feeling of panic that may make your symptoms worse. The best course of action is to sit up straight, relax your upper body, and slow your breathing. These actions can help open your airways.

If you’re in the vicinity of known asthma triggers—such as pollen, chemical fumes, or cigarette smoke—it’s a good idea to slowly move away from the source. However, you’ll want to avoid any strenuous physical activity during an asthma attack.

Step Two: Administer Asthma First Aid

If you’re with someone who’s having an asthma attack and has an inhaler but can’t manage to use it, help them by:

  • Removing the inhaler cap and shaking the device well, then inserting the spacer if the inhaler has one
  • Having the distressed person breathe out completely before putting their mouth tightly around the mouthpiece
  • Pressing the inhaler once to deliver a single puff
  • Encouraging the person to breathe slowly through the mouth, then hold their breath for 10 seconds
  • Repeating the above action three times, about a minute apart

Step Three: Seek Medical Treatment

If you’re experiencing an asthma attack, you should seek medical treatment right away, even if your symptoms subside. If the attack was mild and lasted only a few minutes, you should consult with your primary care doctor or visit an urgent care clinic.

A severe asthma attack can be life-threatening, however. You should call 911 if you’re:

  • Experiencing severe wheezing or shortness of breath that doesn’t let up after a few minutes
  • Unable to speak except for a word or two
  • Straining your chest muscles while trying to breathe
  • Starting to feel drowsy
  • Displaying signs of cyanosis (reduced oxygen in the blood), like a blue face or lips

There are a variety of emergency treatments that can help reduce lung inflammation and get asthma symptoms under control. These include oral corticosteroids, use of a bronchodilator with the appropriate medication, and mechanical ventilation.

Tips to Help Prevent an Asthma Attack

The symptoms of asthma are similar to those of other health conditions, such as respiratory infection and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Therefore, if you’ve been experiencing chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath while exercising or coming in contact with common allergens like pollen, dust, and pet dander, it’s a good idea to get a medical diagnosis. This will likely involve testing to measure your lung function, and your doctor may recommend other diagnostic tests, including those designed to identify allergies.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, your medical practitioner will provide you with a treatment plan. It’s important that you follow that plan to the letter. If you’ve been prescribed use of a rescue inhaler, make sure you take it with you wherever you go, even if you’ve never had an asthma attack. If your treatment plan included identification of triggers, make sure you clear those substances from your home and try to avoid them when you’re out and about. In fact, it’s a good idea to steer clear of common allergens and cigarette smoke. Additionally, you’ll want to take extra precautions to avoid catching a cold or the flu because viral infections can make your asthma symptoms worse.

If you’re in the Clarkston, Michigan, area and you need nonemergency medical treatment for a mild asthma attack, you can get competent and compassionate care at Springfield Urgent Care without an appointment. We’re open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day of the week, including weekends, and we treat patients of all ages.

Contact Springfield Urgent Care today for more information about our asthma treatment and the many other nonemergency health services we offer.