What Happens During an Asthma Attack?

asthma attack

Several environmental factors (such as allergens and aerosols) and non-environmental factors (such as genetic factors and stress) can cause irritation and trigger an immunity response within the bronchi and bronchioles of the lungs. Immunity cells, such as eosinophils and mast cells, begin producing chemical mediators such as leukotriene and histamines. Leukotriene and histamines are responsible for inflammation, vascular dilation, and increasing vascular permeability and production of mucus. It also mediates other immunity cells to the area, causing an overproduction of leukotriene, resulting in more inflammation and mucus production. When the smooth muscle of the bronchi and bronchioles become inflamed the muscles begin to constrict (Figure 1). These constrictions are called bronchospasms, and make it difficult for oxygen to be passed through the lungs. This is followed by a number of symptoms including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness (American Academy of Asthma Allergens Immunology (AAAI), 2012; Cloe, 2007; The Asthma and Allergy Center, 2011).

  • place inhaler in mouth
  • simultaneously take a slow breath in while squeezing the inhaler
  • hold the breath for several seconds

The point of the inhaler is that the medication gets into the lungs, not stuck on the back of the mouth, and breathing in while squeezing the inhaler helps deliver the medication to the inflamed areas of the lungs. When done incorrectly, not all the medication makes it to the lungs and may hinder symptom relief.

Spacers can also be used and help deliver the medication to the appropriate areas. With a spacer the process is slightly different. Spacers squeeze the medication into a tube, which is used to breathe in the medicine (Hatfield, 2010). Spacers help patients receive the full amount of medication if they are having trouble simultaneously breathing and squeezing the inhaler.

Another form of inhaler is a nebulizer, which changes the medication from a liquid to a gas. This is particularly effective for infants, children and anyone who has trouble using an inhaler (Asthma Health Center, 2012). This allows the patients to inhale at any time and the medication will be delivered to their lungs; the patient does not have to worry about receiving partial doses, as is the case with metered dose inhalers if not properly used.

Other forms of medications are oral anti-inflammatory treatments. These treatments are available to those who do not have access to, or cannot use, inhalers. Oral anti-inflammatory treatments help with long-term prevention and treatment, but inhalers are better to use for immediate relief during an asthma attack.

How to Improve Asthma
Not all patients experience the same severity of asthma attacks. While some require the patients to breathe slowly and deeply, and take medication, others require hospitalization and more serious actions. In severe cases, death will occur. There is no doubt that asthma will worsen if the patient is constantly exposed to irritants of the disease. Avoiding environmental and non-environmental factors are recommended for maintaining asthma. In addition to treatments, improvement is also based on lifestyle, and patients living a healthier lifestyle are likely to manage their asthma better than patients maintaining an unhealthy lifestyle.

American Academy of Asthma Allergens Immunology (AAAI). (2012). Asthma. Retrieved from http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma.aspx
Cloe, A. (2007, October 27). The role of leukotrienes in asthma. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/22472-role-leukotrienes-asthma/
The Asthma and Allergy Center. (2011). Leukotrienes' role in asthma . Retrieved from http://www.asthmaandallergycenter.com/w/asthma.mvc/Details/36
Hatfield, H. (2012, May 4). Asthma: The rescue inhaler -- now a cornerstone of asthma treatment. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/features/asthma-rescue-inhaler-cornerstone-asthma-treatment
Asthma Health Center. (2012, May 11). Nebulizers: Home and portable. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/home-nebulizer-therapy