What to do during an asthma attack

Asthma is an under-diagnosed incurable lung disease that according to the World Health Organization affects between five and fifteen percent of the world’s population. In Spain, estimates suggest more than three million people suffer from this respiratory disease and should take measures in order to avoid grave complications. Air pollution in large population centres and tobacco smoke are facilitating such cases to rise year after year. But do we really know what asthma is and how to deal with an attack?

Why do asthma attacks occur?

Asthma attacks usually occur when the layer that protects the bronchial tubes becomes irritated and inflamed. The airways contract, significantly reducing the amount of air that is able to enter and leave the lungs.

In addition, the lungs secrete a mucus that hinders proper airway function.

What are the characteristics of an asthma attack?

Not all asthma attacks are the same, and they can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. However, they do share the following symptoms, which in addition, are often worse at night:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Repeated coughing as a result of the inability to effectively fill the lungs with air.
  • Gasping for air, which will be more pronounced the more severe the attack.
  • Sensation of an oppressed chest.

What to do during an asthma attack

A common mistake when suffering or witnessing an asthma attack is to panic. This is the first thing to avoid.

The steps to follow are simple and effective:

  • The person who is suffering the crisis must find a posture that facilitates the passage of air into the lungs. It is better to be sitting rather than lying down.
  • If that person is diagnosed as asthmatic, their doctor will have previously prescribed them an inhaler. This should be used immediately.
  • A five minute wait is recommended in order to observe if the inhaler has produced any improvement. If it hasn’t, they should continue using the inhaler once every five minutes until the symptoms remit.
  • If the asthma attack persists, the patient should be transferred to a hospital so that the doctors may better evaluate the situation and potentially administer other existing types of medications that are more effective for a serious crisis.

Tips to avoid asthma attacks

Although not all causes of asthma are known, there are certain risk factors that can lead to a respiratory crisis. The most important triggers are:

  • Pollution, tobacco smoke and dust mites.
  • Respiratory infections from colds and flu.
  • Allergies to animals, dust mites, grasses and spices, including dyes and preservatives.
  • Prescription drugs, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
  • Exhaustive physical exercise, especially in dry and cold environments.
  • Other physical exertions that may stress the lungs, such as hysterical laughter or shrieking.
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