An asthma flare-up is when asthma
symptoms get worse, making kids wheeze, cough, or be short of breath. An asthma flare-up
can happen even when asthma is controlled.
Asthma flare-ups are also called asthma attacks or exacerbations.
What Happens in an Asthma Flare-Up?
Asthma is a disease of the breathing tubes that deliver air in and out of the lungs. When someone has asthma, these
airways (also called bronchial tubes and bronchioles)
might be slightly inflamed or swollen, even when the person seems to be breathing
During a flare-up:
gets worse. Sticky mucus clogs the airways and their walls get more swollen.
The muscles around the airways get tight, further narrowing them (this is called
These problems leave very little room in the airways for air to flow through —
think of a straw that's being pinched.
What Causes Asthma Flare-Ups?
People with asthma have airways that are overly sensitive to some things (called
triggers). Being around triggers
can bring on asthma symptoms.
The most common trigger in kids are viral respiratory infections, such as colds.
Other common triggers include:
Many people with asthma also have allergies,
which are another important flare-up trigger.
If not treated, a flare-up can last for several hours or even days. Quick-relief
medicines (also called rescue medicines or fast-acting
medicines) often stop the symptoms pretty quickly. A person should feel better
once the flare-up ends, although this can take several days, especially if a viral
infection was the trigger.
What Are the Signs of an Asthma Flare-Up?
Asthma flare-ups can vary in strength and length. They can happen without warning,
causing sudden coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
Flare-ups should be treated right away. So it's important to know their early warning
struggle to breathe or have fast breathing even when sitting still
be unable to speak more than a few words at a time without pausing
have retractions (sucking in of muscles in the neck and chest) while breathing
Because they can be life-threatening, flare-ups demand attention. Your child might
need to take quick-relief medicine (which acts quickly to relieve symptoms), visit
the doctor, or even go to the hospital.
Make sure your child always has quick-relief medicine and the spacer
Teach your child how to avoid asthma triggers.
Make sure your child takes the long-term
control medicine (also called controller medicine or maintenance
medicine) as the doctor directed. Even when your child feels well, it's important
not to skip it.
Make sure your child gets a yearly flu
vaccine, and washes his or her hands well and often to avoiding germs that lead
to colds and other illnesses.
Work with the doctor on an effective asthma action plan.