Kids with asthma might have days with no breathing problems at all. That's a relief for parents and kids both because it means that the asthma is under control.
But when asthma symptoms like wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath become more severe, more frequent, or both, it's known as an asthma flare-up (also called an asthma flare, attack, episode, or exacerbation).
If the flare-up is severe, a person might:
Here's what's happening inside the body when an asthma flare-up occurs. In the lungs, airways let air in and out. When someone has asthma, these airways, also called bronchial tubes and bronchioles, might be slightly inflamed or swollen even when the person is relatively well.
But during an asthma flare-up, the inflammation gets worse. Sticky mucus clogs these important tubes, and their walls get more swollen. The muscles around the airways get tight, further narrowing the airway (called bronchoconstriction). This leaves very little room inside for the air to flow through — think of a straw that's being pinched.
People with asthma have airways that are overly sensitive to certain things (called triggers) that normally don't bother those without asthma, and exposure to triggers can bring on asthma symptoms. Common triggers include:
Many people with asthma also have allergies. In them, allergens — the things that cause the allergic symptoms — also can cause asthma flare-ups.
Left untreated, a flare-up can last for several hours or even several days. Rescue medications often take care of the symptoms pretty quickly. A person should feel better once the flare-up ends, although it can take several days to completely resolve.
The severity and duration of asthma flare-ups vary from person to person and even from attack to attack. They can happen without warning, with sudden coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. But because people with asthma have inflamed airways that worsen with gradual exposure to triggers, flare-ups also can build up over time, especially in those whose asthma isn't well controlled.
Flare-ups can and should be treated at their earliest stages, so it's important to know early warning signs that a child might experience just before a flare-up occurs. These clues are unique to each child and might be the same or different with each asthma flare-up.
Early warning signs include:
A peak flow meter can help predict when a flare-up might be on its way, although not all flare-ups can be prevented. Because they can be life threatening, flare-ups demand attention. Your child might need to take rescue medicine (which acts quickly to relieve symptoms), visit the doctor, or even go to the hospital. Having a set of instructions (the asthma action plan) can help you know what action is needed.
To help prevent flare-ups:
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology|
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
|Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AAN-MA) Through education, advocacy, community outreach, and research, AAN-MA hopes to eliminate suffering and fatalities due to asthma and allergies. AAN-MA offers news, drug recall information, tips, and more for treating allergies and asthma. Call: (800) 878-4403|
|AIRNow A cross-agency U.S. government website, AIRNow provides useful air quality information, including daily Air Quality Index forecasts and details on conditions in more than 300 U.S. cities.|
|Word! Asthma Flare-Up When a person has a lot of trouble with wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath, it's called an asthma flare-up, or attack.|
|Asthma Flare-Ups Instruction Sheet During an asthma flare-up or attack the airways in a child's lungs become more irritated and swollen, making breathing more difficult. While some flare-ups are mild, others can be life threatening, so it's important to deal with them right away.|
|Dealing With an Asthma Flare-Up Asthma flare-ups, or attacks, can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from happening. Find out how to deal with flare-ups.|
|What's an Asthma Flare-Up? An asthma flare-up (or attack) can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Sometimes, symptoms can be severe. Find out what causes flare-ups and what you can do in this article.|
|Asthma Asthma is a condition that affects a person's airways, also known as breathing tubes. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Asthma Millions of teens in the United States have asthma, a lung condition that causes difficulty breathing. Here are the basics on symptoms, triggers, and treatments.|
|Asthma Center Asthma keeps more kids home from school than any other chronic illness. Learn how to help your child manage the condition, stay healthy, and stay in school.|
|Asthma Center Asthma means breathing problems. Find out what's going on in the lungs and how to stay healthy, if you have it.|
|Asthma Center Visit our Asthma Center for information and advice on managing and living with asthma.|
|When to Go to the ER if Your Child Has Asthma If your child has asthma, it's important to know when going to the ER is the right choice.|
|Handling an Asthma Flare-Up Because they can be life threatening, asthma flare-ups can and should be treated at their earliest stages. So it's important to recognize their early warning signs.|
|Handling an Asthma Flare-Up How can you prepare for an asthma flare-up? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Managing Asthma Asthma control can take a little time and energy to master, but it's worth the effort. Learn more about ways to manage your child's asthma.|
|What's an Asthma Flare-Up? A kid who has asthma might have an asthma attack (or flare-up). Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What's an Asthma Action Plan? An asthma action plan (also called a management plan) is a written plan that you develop with your child's doctor to help control your child's asthma.|
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