According to the CDC, over 19 million people have asthma. But because not everyone presents with traditional asthma symptoms, some people have asthma and don’t even know it until they experience a severe flare up. To keep asthma under control, it’s important to be able to recognize flare up symptoms when they occur so you can work with your doctor to make necessary changes to medication. Even if you are a long-term asthma patient, your condition can always get progressively worse, so learning what is an asthma flare up is necessary for early treatment. Keep reading to learn more about asthma symptoms and how to recognize a flare up. 

Asthma may be more common that you think. Learn about the different types

Types of Asthma

The causes and duration of an asthma flare up vary from person to person, but this is also dependent on the type of asthma you have. 

Common types of asthma:

Adult-onset asthma

  • Adult-onset asthma is classified as asthma that does not present itself until the patient is an adult. This can be one of the most frustrating types of asthma because it can seriously impact the patient’s current lifestyle and activity level. 

Allergic asthma

  • Allergic asthma is classified by asthma that tends to be triggered by external allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander. 

Excercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB)

  • This condition presents as the result of physical activity. Not everyone with EIB has asthma, but the two conditions often go hand in hand. 

Occupational asthma

  • Occupational asthma is generally seen in people that work in environments with high levels of chemical fumes, dust, or other airborne irritants. Unless the patient is able to completely change their work environment, the best they can hope for is to manage their disease with long-term control medicine
airways become inflamed during asthma flare up

What Happens During an Asthma Flare Up? 

Asthma is a condition in which the airways become inflamed; this swelling narrows the airways and causes the body to produce extra sticky mucus which clogs the airways, making it difficult to breathe. During an asthma flare up, this inflammation worsens, leaving very little room in the airways for air to flow through. These attacks can be caused by a number of factors.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Cold or dry air
  • Exercise
  • Pet dander 
  • Mold
  • Dust mites 
  • Cockroaches 
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergies 

If you commonly experience flare ups, you may notice that one or all of these triggers are the culprit. Be sure to avoid your triggers to the best of your ability. Should it feel like a flare up is coming on, take quick-relief medicine and make a mental note of exactly when your asthma symptoms get worse. This will help you keep your asthma under control.   

flare up will cause shortness of breath and tightness in the chest

What Does an Asthma Flare Up Feel Like?

The sensation of an asthma attack may vary from person to person, but there are some common symptoms that many people experience. Asthma sufferers with severed flare ups report feeling short of breath, chest tightness and pressure, tightened neck and chest muscles, as well as feelings of anxiety or panic. Those with more mild asthma symptoms might experience minor wheezing or incessant coughing. Some people describe the sensation of an asthma attack as feeling like breathing through a squished straw, drowning, or as though the air is being squeezed out of them. 

If a severe asthma reaction goes untreated, the sufferer may grow pale, sweaty, and have blue lips or fingernails. Should this happen, call 911 and get to the emergency room immediately. 

Mild asthma flare ups and attacks may only last a few minutes and be treated with inhalers.

How Long Does an Asthma Flare Up Last?

The duration of an asthma attack depends on various factors, like the cause of the reaction, the type of asthma, and how long the airways have been inflamed. Some mild asthma attacks can last only a few minutes and will resolve without medication. More severe attacks can last for hours or even days, and will likely need to be treated with medication administered by a doctor.

It is important to speak to your medical professional about your symptoms.

How Do You Calm an Asthma Flare Up?

When having an asthma attack, it’s important that you sit up straight and remain as calm as possible. Do not lie down, as this can further inhibit your breathing. If you have a rescue inhaler, take one puff every 30 to 60 seconds, with a maximum of 10 puffs. 

Some other techniques to help calm an asthma flare up are breathing exercises:

Pursed lip breathing

  • Breathing in through the nose and out through pursed lips

Belly breathing

  • Breathing in through the nose with the hands placed on the belly, and out through the nose. 
Emergency medical professionals should treat severe attacks.

When to Seek Emergency Care for an Asthma Attack?

Although some asthma attacks are mild and easily managed at home, severe cases should be taken very seriously and treated immediately by an emergency medical professional. Even more mild cases may need medical attention if the symptoms do not settle after a few minutes. If you notice the asthma sufferer is beginning to turn blue in the lips or nails or is becoming increasingly dizzy, take them to an emergency room near you as quickly as possible or call 911. Asthma medicine may need to be administered immediately.

Don’t Wait to Get Treatment

Asthma attacks are scary, and it’s important to entrust your care to physicians you can trust. If you are wondering what is an asthma flare up, need treatment for an asthma flare up, or are seeking any other type of emergency care, find an emergency room or allergist that you can trust to help you.