For someone with asthma, the
in the lungs are a problem. They're always a little swollen or
irritated, but during an
(also called an asthma
), the problems worsen. Sticky mucus clogs these important tubes.
And the muscles around the airways tighten up, further narrowing
the airway. This leaves very little room inside for the air to flow
through. Think of a straw with walls that are getting thicker and
narrower, leaving less and less space inside for air to get
A flare-up can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and
trouble breathing. A person having a flare-up also might sweat or
feel his or her heart beating faster. If the flare-up is severe,
the person may struggle to breathe even while sitting still. He or
she may not be able to speak more than few words at a time without
pausing for breath.
Because they can be life threatening, all asthma flare-ups
demand attention. Someone having an asthma flare-up might need to
, visit the doctor, or even go to the hospital. Having a set of
instructions called an
asthma action plan
can help you know which course of action is needed.
Certain things can bring on symptoms in someone who has asthma.
These are known as
. It may not always be clear what a person's triggers are, but
common triggers include tobacco smoke, cold air, exercise, and
infections, such as colds.
A lot of people who have asthma also have allergies. In these
- the things that cause the allergic symptoms - can also cause
asthma flare-ups. Examples of common allergic triggers include
, dust mites, mold, and cockroaches.
Exposure to a trigger can lead to an asthma flare-up in several
ways. It can worsen the swelling in the airways and increase the
amount of mucus made there. It can also cause the muscles around
the airways to tighten, making the airways even narrower.
Left untreated, a flare-up can last for several hours or even
often take care of the symptoms pretty quickly, and most people
feel better once the flare-up is over, although it can take several
days to completely clear up.
Can You Predict a Flare-Up?
Flare-ups vary a lot from person to person and even from attack
to attack. Some flare-ups happen suddenly, when a person has been
exposed to a trigger, such as tobacco smoke. But other flare-ups
happen because problems in the airways have been building up over
time, especially in people whose asthma is not well controlled.
Flare-ups can and should be treated at their earliest stages, so
it's important to recognize early warning signs. These are
things that a person might experience just before a flare-up
occurs. These clues are unique to each person and may be the same
or different with each asthma flare-up. Early warning signs
- coughing, even if you don't have a cold
- throat clearing
- rapid or irregular breathing
- unusual fatigue
- restless sleep
- difficulty with exercise
peak flow meter
also can be a useful tool in predicting whether a flare-up is on
You also have the power to prevent flare-ups, at least some of
the time. Here's what you can do:
- Always have your inhaler and spacer with you.
- Stay away from triggers that you know may cause
- Take your controller medicine as directed. Don't skip it
or take less of it because you are feeling better.
- Work with your parents and doctor to follow an asthma action
Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: March 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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