Learn more about the causes of asthma

An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of your asthma symptoms that interrupts your routine and requires either extra medication or some other intervention to help you begin breathing normally again.

Asthma is caused by inflammation (swelling) in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the lining of the air passages swells, mucus is produced and the muscles surrounding the airways become tight. This reduces the amount of air that can pass through the airway.
Common Symptoms of an Asthma Attack may include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of or gasping for breath
  • Wheezing

UPMC recommends that you follow these four steps when having an asthma attack:

  1. Don’t panic during an asthma attack. Once panic sets in, your control disappears, and your symptoms can intensify. Remain calm, and follow a plan.
  2. Use your rescue inhaler, usually albuterol. If you have a spacer, use the albuterol with the spacer.
  3. If 2 puffs of albuterol only give you partial relief, repeat with an additional 2 puffs.
  4. If you are still not breathing better, call your doctor or, if you are breathing very poorly and can’t wait for your doctor to call back, proceed to the nearest emergency room

Go to the emergency room if any of these symptoms occur:

  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Severe shortness of breath at rest or with exertion
  • Severe chest pain
  • Bluish color to the lips and face
  • Extreme difficulty breathing
  • Severe anxiety due to shortness of breath