Recognizing flare-ups

Asthma flare-up, also called an asthma flare, attack, exacerbation, or episode, is defined as a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by tightening of bronchial muscles around the airways. For some adults and children, asthma flare-up can be a terrifying experience that seems like someone is sitting on their chest, or there is a cloud in their lungs. During the flare-up, an affected person struggles to breathe, chest tightens. An asthma attack is triggered by exposure to some allergen such as pollen, animal dander, cockroaches, among others. Irritants in the air like smoke and chemical fumes, strong odours can also trigger an asthma flare-up. Flu, sinusitis, and mild upper respiratory infection could also contribute to asthma flare-ups.

Signs of asthma flare-ups

Before the actual flare-up occurs, a person may experience some warning signs. Bear in mind that these warning signs tend to be unique for each person, so it is important to track them properly and identify them in order to prevent asthma flare-ups in the future. Some warning signs can include:
  • Restless sleep
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Difficulty with exercise
  • Rapid or irregular breathing
  • Throat clearing
  • Coughing even if you don’t have a cold
The most noticeable signs and symptoms of an asthma attack include:
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe chest tightness or pain
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Low peak expiratory flow (if you use a peak flow meter)
  • Symptoms don’t respond to quick-acting inhaler
  • Being unable to speak more than a few words at a time without pausing
  • Having retractions or sucking in muscles while inhaling, in neck and chest
Asthma exacerbations are more common in women than in men.

How long asthma flare-ups last?

Duration of asthma attacks can vary from one person to another as it depends on the trigger and how long the airways have been inflamed. For example, mild episodes may last a few minutes while severe flare-ups can last hours or even days.

Preventing asthma attack

While asthma flare-ups occur suddenly, it is possible to lower the risk of experiencing them and decrease the frequency of these attacks. Things you can do include:
  • Always carry inhaler with you
  • Reduce exposure to triggers and try to avoid them entirely
  • Take asthma medications as directed by your doctor
  • Work with your doctor closely on the asthma action plan

Treating asthma flare-ups

If you have already received an action plan from the doctor, make sure you follow it as soon as the signs of asthma flare-up appear. Make sure you stay calm because panicking could only aggravate the symptoms. Your doctor may advise you to take two to six puffs of a quick-acting inhaler. If symptoms are too severe, the best thing to do is to seek medical assistance. References: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6434661/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5950727/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2730743/  
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