IntroductionAn asthma attack is also known as an asthma exacerbation. It is a condition in which bronchial tube becomes narrow and this is caused when airways become inflamed and swollen. Muscles surrounding airways contract. Also, airways produce more amount of mucus. All these will result in an asthma attack which can either be minor or major. If it is minor i.e., less severe then an emergency treatment action plan prescribed to patient itself will be enough to relieve the attack. If symptoms are worst i.e., if asthma attack is of severe intensity then in an absence of emergency medical treatment can take the form of a life-threatening situation.
Risk factorsAll asthmatic individuals throughout lifetime at one point or another are at high risk of suffering from an emergency asthma attack. However, severity of that attack may vary.
Following are the factors which increases the risk of asthma attack-
DiagnosisIn asthma emergencies, lung function tests are carried out to determine severity of an asthma attack. Based on that severity, treatment is carried out.
Following are the lung function tests which are carried out-
Signs and severity of an asthma attack
Patient experiences some difficulty in breathing but is able to carry out other functions like walking, talking etc. Wheezing sound is heard and there is complain of cough. Quick acting inhalers can bring relief.
In severe asthma attacks, patient experiences obvious difficulty in breathing. Complains of cough and wheezing sound. Skin between ribs get tugged in. Unable to speak full sentences in one breath. Quick acting reliever inhalers are not able to last long.
Patient gasps for breath and skin turns blue. He no longer wheezes or displays cough. He looks exhausted and collapses. In every breath, he can barely speak 1-2 words. Reliever drugs show no effect.
Early signs of an asthma attackJust before an asthma attack occurs or at the onset of its phase, it displays certain signs which can be considered as warning signs or an alarming phase. To avoid severity, one should start precautionary measures in this phase itself. These signs are the earliest signs which state that asthma is not getting any better but in fact becoming more worse. These signs occur before symptoms of asthma. If they are recognized then one can stop an asthma attack or at least reduce its severity.
Following are the early signs of an asthma attack -
Symptoms of an emergency asthma attack which need medical supportCertain symptoms during an asthma attack are the indications that patient requires an urgent medical help. Either patient or the person nearest to him without any delay should call for medical help as soon as possible.
Following are the symptoms which should never be taken lightly -
Emergency medical treatmentIn hospitals, doctors try to control asthma attack by making use of following medications and treatment procedures-
These medicines are also present in quick-acting inhalers but in hospitals will be administered deep inside the lungs with the help of nebulizer. It is a machine which administers drug inside the lungs in the form of mist.
To control asthma attack, corticosteroids are given orally. If symptoms worsen then intravenous administration is done. Usually intravenous route is preferred to control asthmatic attack in case of individuals suffering from respiratory system failure and in case of those who are vomiting frequently. On the other hand, aminophylline is administered intravenously.
This drug is administered intravenously in case of fatal asthma attacks and in case of those individuals in whom other drugs in high doses have not shown any improvement in symptoms.
Oxygen supply using a machine is preferred in case of an emergency asthma attack. This will facilitate easy breathing as oxygen gets pumped into the lungs. Meanwhile doctor will continue administering drugs intravenously to control the attack. In severe attacks, a tube will be put down in the throat of the patient inside the upper airway. This is for breathing purpose and done in case of life-threatening emergency asthma attack.
Even after asthma symptoms improve, patient is kept under medical supervision in an emergency room for some time to reduce the risk of another attack. If conditions are preferable then patient is discharged and is asked to follow a proper treatment plan in case another attack arises. However, if symptoms of asthma do not improve even after medical emergency care then patient is hospitalized. An oxygen mask is given to the patient and drugs are administered every few hours. If condition is quite intensely severe then patient is shifted to intensive care unit. Hospitalization usually lasts from 3 to 5 days. Drugs like corticosteroids, bronchodilators, nebulized albuterol etc are administered. Patient may need to stay a little longer in ICU until he shows improvement in asthma episodes. In case of respiratory failure, patient is admitted to ICU where he is kept under monitoring and respiratory support is provided.
ComplicationsAsthma attack can be serious if medical help is not given early. If an individual is not able to control his attack through prescribed treatment plan then he should call his doctor or an ambulance as soon as possible. Any delay can lead to death. If patient reaches emergency room early enough during emergency asthma attack then his life can be saved. If any delay is made and respiratory failure occurs then patient cannot be saved. In such cases, patient ceases breathing before he even arrives in the hospital. Less amount of oxygen supply and pneumothorax cause severe irreversible damage to his respiratory organs. Sudden and severe asthma attacks prevents an asthmatic patient to smoothly carry out his daily activities like sleeping, working, exercise, walking, interacting etc. It causes a very strong impact on quality of life of patient as well as lives on those around him. A very severe sudden asthma attack can be both expensive as well as stressful.
ConclusionAsthma attacks most of the times are of mild or moderate severity and thus can be controlled by a patient itself if he properly follows treatment plan prescribed by doctor. Know more about the care and treatment procedures to be adopted during and after an asthma attack by going through What to do during an emergency asthma attack: Part-1. When it is severe in intensity, it needs urgent medical attention. Hospitalization and close monitoring is needed to keep patient stable and lower the asthmatic symptoms. If medical attention and care is not provided then patient may develop complications like respiratory failure and further delay can be life-threatening. Thus, it is important to never become careless towards asthmatic symptoms and get them diagnosed as soon as possible. It is very important to identify early signs of an asthma attack so that medical emergency can be prevented.