Also described as asthma “flare-ups” or “episodes,” asthma attacks refer to any period when an asthmatic suffers a noticeable shortness of breath that requires some form of treatment or medical intervention to restore normal breathing.
Onset: The onlooker will notice a distinct shortness of breath and wheezing, particularly while exhaling.
Next stage: Wheezing increases markedly and becomes apparent during both inhaling and exhaling.
Advanced stage: Sometimes symptoms do not progress beyond the wheezing stage. In other cases, the attack continues to the stage where the sufferer stops breathing because the airways become totally blocked. WARNING! This development is dangerous. Immediate medical intervention is required.
Typical Symptoms of Asthma Attacks
- Shortness of breath
- Constriction of the chest muscles
- Sputum production
- Excess rapid breathing/gasping
- Rapid heart rate
Identifying Adult Asthma Symptoms
Under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of asthma in today’s U.S. adult population remains at an alarmingly high level. This applies particularly to elderly sufferers, where adult asthma symptoms are often mistaken as the symptoms of other diseases associated with cardiac (heart), pulmonary (lung) and bronchial conditions.
Adult asthma symptoms include:
- Chronic nighttime coughing
- Chest pains
- Chest tightness
- Insomnia due to shortness of breath
- Intolerance to the smell of chemicals.
How Does Asthma Differ from Similar Conditions?
First, asthma attacks tend to be intermittent. Asthma can often lie dormant for lengthy periods of time, but for established sufferers, the risk for a flare-up is always present.
Another distinguishing characteristic of asthma as compared to other respiratory conditions is the degree to which the airflow in the lungs is obstructed. For all ages of asthma sufferers, airflow to the lungs can vary considerably at different times, from mild to severe. Also, levels of wheezing and shortness of breath can change suddenly—often in minutes.
Other Conditions that Obstruct the Airways
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Severe sinusitis
- Chronic bronchitis
What is Anaphylactic Shock?
Anaphylactic shock is similar to a massive allergic response that affects the whole body. When a large number of the body’s mast cells release histamine and other substances into the blood stream, the respiratory tract can be severely compromised. Blood flow to major organs is also compromised. Anaphylactic shock is a medical emergency and requires prompt treatment.
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:
- Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, at onset flushes
- Swelling of the throat
- Vomiting and nausea
- Chest tightness
- Severe wheezing
- Drop in blood pressure.
IMPORTANT! Anyone suffering from anaphylactic shock is seriously ill and needs immediate medical treatment. The condition is life threatening and may lead to cardiac arrest.
What is the Treatment for Anaphylactic Shock?
Treatment usually consists of intravenous epinephrine (adrenalin). In certain cases, antihistamines and steroids are also administered. Aminophylline (a respiratory stimulant and bronchodilator) is used occasionally in situations where the patient fails to respond to epinephrine. Anyone at risk of anaphylactic shock should carry a pre-loaded adrenaline syringe (often referred to by the brand names Ana-Guard® or Epipen®).