Breathe Easier: Know the Signs of an Asthma Attack

By May 15, 2017Health Basics

We are streaming live from our Dripping Springs location today with Five Star ER Dr. Janna Welch! Today’s #WellnessWednesday topic is allergies and asthma. Have questions? Leave them in the comments!

Posted by Five Star ER on Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects more than 24 million Americans, including 6 million children. Each year, Asthma attacks and complications account for 2 million emergency room visits. Knowing the symptoms of an asthma emergency, and when to seek asthma emergency treatment, could save your life or the life of someone you love.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is defined as a lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways making it hard to breathe. Asthma sufferers have frequent episodes of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing.

“Asthma is a potentially very serious lung disease that, unfortunately, is really, really common,” says Dr. Janna Welch, an emergency medicine physician at Five Star ER in Dripping Springs, TX. “Basically, it’s inflammatory changes in your lung in the small tubes that come down into your lung for oxygen exchange, called bronchioles. In those bronchioles, because of irritants and allergens in the atmosphere, you get swelling of those tubes, so it’s much harder for air to flow through. Also, there’s a spasm component, called bronchospasm, where irritants get into those airways that are already constricted from swelling, and make them clamp down really tight. That’s when you hear wheezing.”

Who Suffers from Asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects people of all ages. In most cases the first symptoms of asthma manifest during childhood, and continue on as the person ages. In the United States, an estimated 24 million people suffer from asthma.

How Do You Know if You Suffer from Asthma?

Asthma can be difficult to diagnose because often the symptoms come and go. If you are consistently experiencing symptoms like the ones listed above (wheezing, tightness of the chest, coughing) you may be suffering from asthma. If you suspect you may be suffering from asthma, your doctor will evaluate your medical history as well as your family’s. After some lung function tests, your doctor may choose to prescribe medication if they feel you are indeed suffering from asthma.

Is Asthma Hereditary?

“Experts think so,” Welch says. “They think there are two components: a genetic component—they haven’t quite figured out what that is, but asthma certainly runs in families—and then there’s a big environmental component—how much dust is in the area where you live, how much pet dander and how many outdoor allergens you are exposed to.”

What is an “Asthma Attack”?

“Any irritants can cause an asthma attack,” Welch says. Asthma attacks range from mild to severe, and require different levels of care depending on their level of severity. During a mild asthma attack, you may experience wheezing, coughing, and be short of breath. Often times, an inhaler kept on hand can prevent mild asthma attacks from becoming severe.

More severe asthma attacks may require medical attention, as they can become life-threatening. Severe asthma attacks are characterized by an inability to breathe caused by narrowed pathways that become clogged with mucus.

In rare cases, asthma can be fatal. “One of my childhood friends actually died from an asthma attack,” Welch says. “What happens with these patients is, their asthma gets really bad, they take all of their treatments, they are not responding to their treatments very well, and they just simply get tired and their body has less and less ability to compensate for the difficulty breathing. As they get tired, they eventually lose consciousness and stop breathing. It happens in very rare cases, but it’s something that you need to know about.”

What Should I Do if Someone is Having an Asthma Attack?

If you or some else is having an asthma attack it is important not to panic. Panicking can exacerbate some of the more dangerous symptoms of the attack. Call 911 or get emergency help right away if you or someone else is experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling out of breath, even when you’re not moving
  • Trouble walking, talking, or doing normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Not feeling better after using your rescue inhaler
  • Peak flow readings of less than 50% of your personal best
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Exhaustion or confusion
  • The skin around your ribs looking “sucked in” (especially in children)
  • Unconsciousness

 

About Five Star ER

Five Star ER is locally owned and operated by the physicians of Emergency Service Partners, L.P., a respected provider of emergency physician services to hospitals and health systems across Texas for more than 28 years. Our experienced physicians bring their excellent tradition of emergency care to a first-class, patient-centered freestanding ER.

Our patient-centered care means you will come first. Our freestanding ER provides the capabilities of a hospital emergency department, without the hassles and long waits that can be part of a hospital ER. From the comfortable lounge area and private exam rooms to our top-notch medical team and latest technology, patients can be door-to-doctor in less than 15 minutes. To find the location nearest you, click here.

This content was created to be purely educational in nature. This post is not meant to be used as a substitute for medical treatment or personal consultation regarding a medical condition. As always, if you or a loved one is suffering a life-threatening medical emergency or injury, call 911.

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