An asthma flare-up is when asthma symptoms get worse, making someone 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.
infections (like a cold), cigarette
smoke, exercise, or even cold air can cause a flare-up and make asthma symptoms worse.
What Happens During an Asthma Flare-Up?
During a flare-up, you might have:
a tight chest
a whistling sound when you breathe (wheezing)
Flare-ups happen when the airways
in the lungs get more irritated and swollen than usual. Your lungs might make a sticky
mucus, which clogs the airways. The muscles around the airways will also tighten up,
making them really narrow. This clogging and narrowing make it tough to pull air in
and push air out.
Some flare-ups are mild, but others are serious. If the flare-up is severe, a person
struggle to breathe or have fast breathing even when sitting still
not be able 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
Flare-ups can happen suddenly. They also can build up over time, especially if
you haven't been taking your asthma medicine.
How Can I Spot an Asthma Flare-Up?
After you've had a few flare-ups, you may notice that you feel a certain way when
one is coming on. Do you have a tight chest or an itchy throat? Are you feeling tired?
Do you have a cough, even though you don't have a cold?
How Do I Handle an Asthma Flare-Up?
If you feel like a flare-up is about to happen, stay calm. Let people around you
know what's going on. Then remember your asthma
action plan. That's the written plan that tells you what to do next.
Stay calm and focus on what your asthma action plan says. Your doctor probably
told you to use your quick-relief
medicine, so do that first.
If you can figure out what triggered your symptoms (like a pet or someone who is
smoking), remove the trigger — or yourself — from the area. Sometimes
that's all you need to get your asthma under control again.
If a flare-up is more severe, you might need to get help.
When Should I Go to the ER?
Don't be embarrassed to get medical help if you think you need it. These situations
call for emergency care:
You take your asthma medicine and your flare-up doesn't get any better.
You feel a little better after taking your medicine, but your symptoms come back
You have frequent wheezing, a lasting cough, or chest pain.
Your lips and fingernails are bluish or grayish.
You have trouble breathing, talking, or walking.
How Can I Prevent Asthma Flare-Ups?
Asthma flare-ups can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from
happening. To do that:
Take asthma medicines as directed. If your doctor prescribed
a long-term control medicine,
take it each day, even when you feel fine. It needs to be taken exactly as your doctor
tells you to keep protecting you against flare-ups.
Get a flu shot
each year before flu season starts.
Avoid triggers. By knowing and avoiding your triggers, you might
be able to prevent some flare-ups.
It's important to plan ahead and know what to do. Work with your doctor to build
and update your asthma action plan. That way, you know what to do if a flare-up happens
and you're in control if things get serious.