What is an asthma episode (attack)? • When air passages are irritated, they are squeezed by the muscles, swell and fill with mucus. This makes the air passages smaller. • An asthma episode happens when the air passages get smaller because they have been irritated. • When air passages swell and constrict, the person with asthma experiences symptoms. • These symptoms may be worse at some times than at others. • Possible symptoms include: o Coughing. o Wheezing. o Shortness of breath. o Tightness in the chest. • During an asthma episode more than one symptom may be present. • Asthma episodes may happen suddenly or take days to develop. • Episodes may be severe, moderate or mild. Can asthma episodes be prevented? • Asthma can be controlled and episodes can be prevented or made less severe. • If you are having more than one episode a week, see your doctor. • Some steps that can be taken to prevent or control episodes are: o Take controlling medications (not your Albuterol) every day. o Use a peak flow meter to monitor lung function regularly. o Have an “Asthma Action Plan” completed by your doctor. o Implement the “Asthma Action Plan” at the first sign of an asthma episode. What can I do about an asthma episode (attack)? • What you do for an episode depends on how severe it is. • In case of a severe episode: o You may experience breathlessness, trouble talking, neck muscles may become tight, skin around the ribs may be sucked in and lips and fingernails may be grayish or bluish. o Take your asthma medicine as prescribed. o Get emergency help immediately. • Most asthma episodes are mild or moderate. o You may experience tightness in the chest, coughing with or without spitting up mucus, restlessness, trouble sleeping or wheezing. o It is important to be familiar with what symptoms are usual for you but be aware of the others. • Cough medicine will not help an asthma episode. • Take your asthma medicine as prescribed. • Take only your prescribed medicines. o Usually breathing will be easier in a few minutes and symptoms will disappear. o Remaining calm and quiet, breathing deeply and slowly will often help. o Occasionally, medicine will have to be repeated in a few hours. o If medicine does not work in the time you would expect – call your doctor. • Severe Asthma Attack – take medicine and get help immediately. • Mild or Moderate Attack – take medicine, repeat as needed, call doctor if problem continues. What about asthma medications from over the counter? 1. The over-the-counter inhalers that open the airways are somewhat effective if taken in an emergency. They should not be taken often because the side effects can be negative and can be dangerous to some people. 2. It is much safer to use a prescription “rescue” inhaler under a doctor’s direction. If you are using any “rescue” inhaler more than two (2) times a week, you do not have adequate control of your asthma and should ask your doctor for more assistance with controlling medication. 3. Cough medicine will not stop an asthma episode and should not be taken for a cough related to an asthma episode.
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