I’m sure you’ve seen those movies where one of the main characters is having asthma attacks out of the blue. It’s very dramatic. One second everything is fine and 2 seconds later this person is out of breath. Everyone is panicking and they all start looking for an inhaler. It needs to be found quickly as the poor asthma sufferer is running out of time. Well… that is not what happens in real life with asthma.
Asthma, in most cases, will give you some warning signs about upcoming attack. Usually it takes weeks for severe asthma attack to develop, in some cases, it might develop within few hours (yes, hours, not seconds). Situations where you’re suddenly out of breath without any “previous notice” from your body are very rare. Of course, if you have severe allergy to something, you might get sudden reaction from inhaling or eating the allergen. Asthma attack might be part of an overall allergic reaction – anaphylaxis. In this case you will need immediate medical treatment (epi-pen, emergency inhaler and/or more), calling the ambulance and sometimes you will need a stay in a hospital to get through the episode. But this is a completely different story.
How does asthma attack feel like?
I will tell you how I remember it from my childhood, when my asthma wasn’t controlled properly by preventive medications, so I used to have bad episodes quite often. When you’re experiencing asthma attack, your airways narrow and sometimes swell too. There’s extensive amount of mucus produced in your airways preventing the air from passing freely in and out. You can feel that this is what’s happening. Air struggles to get through the bronchial tubes and it makes a wheezing sound that can be heard easily by others who are next to you or if someone puts an ear on your chest, they can hear it very clearly. Without using a stethoscope. You start to cough as your body is instinctively expecting that it will help to clear the airways, but coughing might make the bronchospasm even worse.
Next level is, when there’s no noise to be heard by bare ear. This means that there’s not enough air in the airways to make a noise. Yes, you’re right – this is serious. As well as situation where you can see pale face, blue-ish lips or blue fingertips on someone who’s going through the asthma attack. Call the ambulance right away or rush that person to the hospital if it’s close by. I’ve been in this situation several times and I still thought that I was fine. Even though that I didn’t feel well and getting from my bed to the door of my room felt like running a marathon without any preparation in advance… At the end I always ended up in the hospital for a week or two until they put me back together. So now I can give you one advice: never let it go that far.
I remember sitting on my bed on one Christmas eve, concentrating on every single breath, paying huge effort to get at least some amount of oxygen into my lungs, I was very tired but I couldn’t lay down cause it made it even harder to take a breath. And I was also trying to push the clock hand further with my eyes so it would be time when I could take another dose of my emergency inhaler. I still thought that it will just go away and I won’t need to go the the hospital again… But I had to. There was no other way…
Learn how to control your asthma properly
There was one thing that I didn’t know at the time of experiencing often severe asthma attacks: Well controlled asthma should give you (almost) NO symptoms. In other words: if you’re experiencing asthmatic symptoms often, your asthma is not controlled properly. You need to talk to your doctor about changing your regular medications.
Your doctor should also teach you how to “predict” upcoming asthma attack and what to do to stop it before you get it.
Types of asthma medications
Asthma is an inflammatory disease. Therefore it needs to be controlled by anti-inflammatory medications. There are two types of medicines for asthma:
- Asthma controllers – this include corticosteroid inhalers, antihistamines and some other medications that your doctor might find suitable for controlling your condition effectively. You need to take them regularly and their role is to prevent asthma attacks from happening.
- Emergency or quick relief medicines – inhalers or pills that open airways quickly in case of asthma attack, they’re called bronchodilators. If you need to use them often, it’s a sign that your asthma is not under control.
It might seem like a lot to take medications daily for years, but the thing about asthma medication is that you’re using very small amounts (the smallest amount possible in order to prevent the attacks). When you’re taking an inhaler, you’re putting the active substance right where it’s needed – it’s a local treatment. If you stop taking your medication and develop severe asthma attack, you will end up in a hospital. You will take much higher dose of medications in a span of 3 or 4 days than you would take in a year by using your regular asthma controllers. It would also be in a form of pills or intravenously so the corticosteroids and other substances would flood your entire body which is worse than usual local action of your inhaler.
Asthma controlling medications are here to help you feel good and live your life fully, without any restrictions. Try to live your life as healthy as possible. Relax (avoid stress) as much as you can. Spend a lot of time in nature, where there’s fresh, clean air. Plan your holidays in a places where you feel good, e.g. if you suffer from hay fever or pollen allergy, you won’t enjoy stay in a beautiful valley full of flowers no matter how great the hotel looks over there. Maybe seaside holiday would be more suitable for you or simply pick the time of the year when there’s less allergens in the air…
I will tell you more about early detection of asthma attacks as well as how to “test” what amount of medications do you need in the next Asthma article.