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What is Acute Asthma Exacerbation?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Acute asthma exacerbation is an event in which someone who suffers from asthma fairly suddenly feels an increased tightness in his or her lungs and a pronounced reduction in airflow when breathing. This can sometimes be accompanied by a number of other symptoms or effects, such as coughing, wheezing, a feeling of lightheadedness, and other similar sensations based on a reduction of air within a person. Acute asthma exacerbation is generally one of the major signs of asthma, and the frequency of such events is often used to determine the severity of asthma in a person.

Sometimes referred to simply as an “asthma attack,” acute asthma exacerbation can be triggered by a number of factors and may be treated or avoided in numerous ways as well. Common triggers for such attacks include allergens such as dust and pet dander, cigarette smoke, high levels of stress, respiratory illnesses or viruses, and air pollutants such as smog and automobile exhaust. These triggers can often cause an acute asthma exacerbation which may require some form of medical treatment to ultimately end the attack.

Acute asthma exacerbation typically feels like an intense tightening of the lungs as the bronchial airways in the lungs constrict and do not allow comfortable airflow. This type of attack may be accompanied by coughing and wheezing when trying to breathe, and shortness of breath and a sense of panic can also be common. For someone with asthma, it feels as though he or she simply cannot pull enough air into his or her lungs when trying to breathe. This sensation can lead to panic, which will typically only make the acute asthma exacerbation worse. Anyone undergoing such an asthma attack should try to remain calm and keep his or her breathing as regular as possible.

The two most common ways to deal with acute asthma exacerbation are through medical treatment and avoidance of triggers. Avoidance of triggers is usually achieved by understanding what will set off an asthma attack and attempting to avoid those things. This usually requires that a person understands his or her allergies, such as pet dander and certain flowers, and then avoids situations where he or she would be presented with those triggers. Such avoidance can also involve changes in diet and lifestyle to avoid allergic triggers.

Medical treatment often comes in the form of emergency or preventive inhalers. These inhalers are used to breathe medication directly into the lungs. Preventative inhalers are usually used at regular intervals and work to prevent attacks, while emergency inhalers are typically used during an attack to try to end the attack sooner.

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