Asthma Attack – Before and After

If you or your loved ones suffer from asthma attacks, you're not alone. Asthma UK estimates that there are 5.4 million asthma sufferers in this country, with it affecting one in five UK households.

Every 10 seconds, someone in the UK suffers from a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. It's important to understand the warning symptoms for an attack and what to do if you have one.1

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What is an asthma attack?

Sufferers of asthma can experience symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness. The NHS defines an asthma attack, as the sudden worsening of these symptoms.

During an asthma attack three key things happen which cause difficulties in breathing:

  1. Bronchospasm: The muscles around your airway tighten, restricting the flow of air into the lungs.
  2. Inflammation: The lining of the airway becomes swollen, irritated and inflamed.
  3. Mucus production: In response to the irritation more mucus is produced, that is thicker than normal.2

Symptoms of an asthma attack

So how do you know if your symptoms are severe enough to be considered an asthma attack? Well, according to the NHS, the following are key indicators that you are having an acute attack:

  • Your reliever inhaler isn't working as well as normal, if at all.
  • Your symptoms are worsening; you've more prolonged and severe wheezing, coughing, tightening of the chest and breathlessness.
  • Your symptoms are making it difficult to eat, sleep or speak.
  • Your breathing or heart rate are becoming more rapid.
  • Your lips or your fingers are turning blue – a condition known as cyanosis.

Most asthma attacks will be mild and the airways will relax and open after treatment. However, if you're experiencing the symptoms of a severe attack it's critical to seek medical assistance immediately.

What to do in the event of an asthma attack

If you being to experience the symptoms of an asthma attack, the following is a simple 5-step plan recommended by the NHS:

Asthma First Aid

Sit the person upright

  • Be calm and reassuring
  • Do not leave them alone

Provide medication

  • Shake the reliever inhaler well*
  • Use a spacer if available
  • Give 4 separate puffs into the spacer
  • Take 4 deep breaths from the spacer after each puff

* Use a turbohaler like Bricanyl if you have no access to
a puffer or spacer

Wait 4 minutes

  • If there is no improvement then repeat step 2

If there is still no improvement, then call for
emergency assistance (DIAL 999)

  • Inform the operator of the asthma attack
  • Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes until
    emergency assistance arrives
  1. Take two puffs of your reliever inhaler (such as Ventolin)
  2. Stay as calm as possible and sit up straight
  3. Try and take slow and steady breaths
  4. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  5. If you feel worse while taking the inhaler or you don't see any improvement within 10 minutes please seek medical assistance immediately, by calling 999 for an ambulance.

If the ambulance hasn't reached you within 10 minutes and your symptoms are still severe, take your reliever inhaler again as prescribed above in step three.

What to do if symptoms improve

It may not feel like it immediately, but a lot can be learned from an asthma attack. It can be an opportunity to gain better control of your condition and a warning that something about your treatment plan needs to change.

Even if your attack subsides without needing to go to the hospital, it is important to speak to your doctor or healthcare professional within 48 hours of the attack.

There are two things to consider – was there something that specifically triggered your attack? Is there something you can do to prevent future attacks occurring? You may require changes to the dosage of your preventive medication or you may need to make additional changes to your lifestyle and surroundings to avoid triggers.

If you suffer from asthma, it is a good idea to create your own personalised Asthma Action Plan. This is a written document which will help you track all the information you need to keep your asthma under control. It should outline all your preventive medications and dosages, your action plan in case of an attack and track any changes in your condition so you can see if it's getting worse. After your attack you should return to this plan and update it as required.

Reducing the risk of future asthma attacks

There will quite often be warning signs, days before a severe asthma attack. It is important to pay attention to warnings such as the need for an increased use of medications, disturbed sleep or changes in your peak flow meter readings (recommended for acute asthma sufferers).

Asthma Prevention Methods

  • Weight Control
  • Regular Exercising
  • Sufficient Sleep & Recovery
  • Healthy Nutrition
  • Hiking
  • Regular Health-Checks

Preventative Medications

As the saying goes, prevention is the best cure. There is a range of preventative and inhaler medications available to prevent the asthma attack, or provide effective relief in the case that it occurs. These include the ever popular reliever inhaler - Ventolin and preventer inhalers such as Clenil-modulite or Seretide. If taken daily, these medications can help ease symptoms by reducing the inflammation that causes attacks.

Avoiding Colds and Flus

If you suffer from asthma, the common cold or flu can aggravate your symptoms. In fact, it's estimated that the common cold is a contributing factor in almost 80% of reported asthma attacks.

It's commonly spread through hard surfaces and air, when people cough or sneeze. Asthma sufferers should be extra vigilant about keeping surfaces clean and frequently washing their hands. It is also worth considering influenza and pneumonia vaccinations, for additional protection.

Avoiding Triggers

Many people with asthma can also suffer from allergies which can trigger symptoms – including pet hair, pollen, dust mites and smoke. It is important to identify what may be triggering your symptoms and make appropriate lifestyle changes to minimise your exposure. For example,

  • Don't leave pets in the bedrooms
  • Use hypoallergenic bedding and minimise dust in the house.
  • Consider antihistamines to control hay fever
  • Keep your house smoke free

Frequently check in with your healthcare adviser or doctor on your medication, take it as prescribed and know how to manage an attack if one starts.

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