An asthma attack (also called as asthma flare or asthma exacerbation) is a sudden worsening of child’s asthma symptoms. During an asthma attack or asthma flare, the airways (also called bronchi) become swollen and inflamed leading to production of extra mucus or phlegm. The muscles around the bronchi tighten causing the airways or bronchi to narrow. Asthma attacks can be variable in severity ranging from mild episodes but can be severe and life-threatening. Severe asthma attacks require emergency treatment, admission and occasionally ICU care.
Can asthma attacks be serious and life threatening?
Asthma attacks can get serious occasionally. The most important reason for a serious asthma attack is a poorly controlled asthma which means that asthma symptoms were present but not being properly treated. In this situation the allergic inflammation in the airways is present and gets flared up with seasonal viral infection and environment triggers.
What are the symptoms of a serious or severe asthma attack?
Asthma attacks vary in severity but usually start with coughing, which progresses to wheezing (whistling sounds when your child breathes out) and difficult breathing. During a severe asthma attack the child finds it difficult to breathe which leads to widened nostrils when breathing (nasal flaring), using abdominal muscles to breathe and the child's chest and sides pulling inward. Children usually have increased heartbeat, sweating and chest pain. In a severe asthma attack children find it difficult to speak in sentences due to shortness of breath. Children having any of these symptoms require seeking medical attention immediately.
How can we prevent further asthma attacks in a child?
Prevention of future asthma attacks in children involves three steps: regular use of preventive medicines (usually in the form of metered dose inhalers with spacers or dry powder inhalers), avoidance of triggers and using an asthma action plan. Regular use of preventive medicines keeps the underlying allergic inflammation or swelling in control and significantly reduces the chances of having further asthma attacks. Avoidance of triggers also is essential and reduces the future risk of asthma attacks. All children with asthma need to have an asthma action plan which helps parents monitor symptoms of asthma and also know what to do if a child has an asthma attack. It is also important to see your pediatric pulmonologist or allergist at the earliest if the child is having any signs of asthma worsening. Early treatment helps to control asthma symptoms and prevents worsening of the asthma attack.
If your child is having repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness or asthma attacks consult a pediatric pulmonologist or allergist for proper diagnosis and treatment.