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Signs of an asthma attack

Asthma attack - signs; Reactive airway disease - asthma attack; Bronchial asthma - attack

Symptoms

If you do not know whether or not you have asthma, these 4 symptoms could be signs that you do:

  • Coughing during the day or coughing that may wake you up at night.
  • Wheezing, or a whistling sound when you breathe. You may hear it more when you breathe out. It can start as a low-sounding whistle and get higher.
  • Breathing problems that include having shortness of breath, feeling like you are out of breath, gasping for air, having trouble breathing out, or breathing faster than normal. When breathing gets very difficult, the skin of your chest and neck may suck inward.
  • Chest tightness.

Other Warning Signs

Other early warning signs of an asthma attack are:

  • Dark bags under your eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Being short-tempered or irritable
  • Feeling nervous or edgy

Danger Signs

Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if you have any of the following symptoms. These may be signs of a serious medical emergency.

  • You are having trouble walking or talking because it is so hard to breathe.
  • You are hunching over.
  • Your lips or fingernails are blue or gray.
  • You are confused or less responsive than usual.

If your child has asthma, the child's caregivers must know to call 911 in case your child has any of these symptoms. This includes teachers, babysitters, and others who take care of your child.

References

Bergstrom J, Kurth SM, Bruhl E, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement website. Health Care Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 11th ed. www.icsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Asthma.pdf. Updated December 2016. Accessed January 11, 2020.

Viswanathan RK, Busse WW. Management of asthma in adolescents and adults. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 52.

 

Review Date: 1/12/2020

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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