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What Is Acute Asthma?

Exposure to cigarette smoke can bring on acute asthma.
An inhaler is used to address breathing issues.
An asthma inhaler.
An illustration of the pathology of asthma.
Article Details
  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 June 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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People with chronic asthma sometimes have a sudden, severe onset of symptoms. This type of attack is referred to as acute asthma. During an episode, the sufferer’s airways narrow as the muscles in the lungs contract. The person may experience a tight feeling in the chest, trouble drawing breath, and wheezing. In many cases, sufferers have difficulty talking and even walking.

Acute asthma can be triggered by a number of different factors. Exposure to allergens is one of the most common causes. Respiratory diseases such as bronchitis may lead to an attack. Environmental pollutants such as cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and smog may bring on acute asthma. Some other causes include stress and significant changes in temperature.

The best way to deal with acute asthma is to avoid attacks altogether. Typically, acute attacks happen much less frequently and with less severity if chronic asthma is well controlled. There are several types of medication that patients can use long term to control their asthma, including inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting bronchodilators, and leukotrine modifiers. Drugs that control allergy symptoms, such as antihistamines and decongestants, may be useful as well for people where allergies are their primary trigger. Some of these drugs do have side effects, so patients should discuss options carefully with their doctors.

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An acute asthma attack can be dangerous and potentially fatal and should be taken very seriously. A person suffering an attack should use his or her fast-acting inhaler as soon as possible. These type of inhalers typically contain short-acting bronchodilators that relax the air passages in the lungs within minutes. If this does not get the attack under control, the person should contact his or her doctor or even go to the hospital for emergency treatment.

If the attack is severe enough that the patient goes to the hospital, he or she may be treated in one of several ways. Corticosteroids may be given orally or intravenously to quickly alleviate inflammation of the airways. A face mask and ventilator may be necessary to get the person extra oxygen. Antibiotics can also be used if the attack occurs in conjunction with a respiratory infection. Depending on the severity of the episode, the person's asthma may come under control fairly quickly and she can be discharged after a short time, or she may need to stay in the hospital for a few days.

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