What You Need to Know about Asthma Attack Symptoms | Health 101

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What You Need to Know about Asthma Attack Symptoms

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, more than 25 million people have asthma, and this has been increasing over the past few years. Asthma is a condition that affects your breathing and airways. It causes your airways to get swollen and can make breathing difficult. Asthma can be deadly, if it is not treated right. It’s estimated that 10 Americans die of asthma each day.

Types of Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks can range from mild to severe. Mild asthma attacks are more common. Usually, the airways open up within a few minutes to a few hours after using a rescue inhaler during a mild attack. Severe asthma attacks are less common, last longer, and require immediate medical help. It is important to recognize and treat even mild symptoms of an asthma attack to help you prevent longer attacks and keep asthma under control.


What Causes an Asthma Attack?

Asthma symptoms are usually not present, but sometimes, things in the environment can cause an asthma attack. These are called triggers. There are many different kinds of triggers.

If you or a loved one has asthma, it’s important to understand what can cause an attack. You can then take steps to avoid the triggers. Asthma symptoms can be different from one attack to another and everyone’s triggers are different.


These different reasons or triggers may include:

  • Pollen
  • Pets
  • Mold
  • Dust mites
  • Smoking
  • Inhaling very cold, dry air
  • Stress
  • Viruses or other respiratory infections like a cold or flu
  • Some foods
  • Exercise


Exercise-induced Asthma

For about 80% of people with asthma, a heavy workout can cause an asthma attack2. Exercise is often the main asthma trigger. Signs are chest tightness, cough, and trouble breathing within the first 5 to 15 minutes of an aerobic workout. For most people these symptoms go away in the next 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. It is also possible to have another attack six to 10 hours later. A slow warm-up may help prevent this.


Knowing the Symptoms Can Save Your Life

Most people with asthma may go some time without having an asthma attack or other symptoms. However, an attack can happen with little warning. It’s important to know what triggers can cause an attack because everyone has different triggers. There may be signs or changes that happen just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack. They are the earliest signs that your asthma is getting worse and an attack could happen. By recognizing these signs, you can stop an asthma attack or prevent one from getting worse.


Early warning signs of an asthma attack include:

  • Cough, especially at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired or weak when exercising
  • Wheezing or coughing after exercise
  • Feeling tired, easily upset, moody
  • Signs of a cold or allergies (sneezing, runny nose, cough, sore throat, and headache)
  • Trouble sleeping


Asthma Action Plan

Use the links below as a guide when talking to your doctor about your asthma action plan. Your doctor will help you understand how to use it. Then, when you notice the early signs of an attack, you will know what to do based on your action plan. Hang it on the refrigerator at home so everyone in the house knows the plan. Make sure the school nurse has one too.

General Action Plan

Action Plan for Home and School



There are many places to find more information on asthma. There are several groups that offer support and resources. Visit https://www.noattacks.org/asthma-resources for more information.

  1. https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/
  2. https://www.webmd.com/asthma/qa/can-exercise-trigger-asthma


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