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Handling an Asthma Flare-Up

What's an Asthma Flare-Up?

If you have asthma, you probably know about flare-ups (also called asthma "attacks"). That's when your asthma symptoms get worse.

During a flare-up, you might have:

  • trouble breathing
  • a tight or painful feeling in the chest
  • a whistling sound when you breathe (wheezing)
  • a cough

Some flare-ups are mild, but others are serious. If the flare-up is severe, a kid might:

  • struggle to breathe or have fast breathing even when sitting still
  • not be able speak more than a few words at a time without pausing
  • have sucking in of muscles in the neck and chest while breathing in

Flare-ups happen because in someone with asthma, the airways are always slightly inflamed (irritated and swollen), even when the person seems to be breathing fine. The lungs might make sticky mucus, which clogs the airways. And the muscles around the airways tighten up, making the airways really narrow. These problems make it hard for air to get through the airways.

How Can I Spot an Asthma Flare-Up?

After you've had a few flare-ups, you may notice that you feel a certain way when one is coming on. You might have a tight chest, an itchy throat, or a tired feeling. Or do you have a cough, even though you don't have a cold? But flare-ups can sometimes happen without warning, causing sudden coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

What Should I Do if I Have a Flare-Up?

If you feel like a flare-up is about to happen, you might need to take the medicine the doctor prescribed for quick relief of symptoms. Let people around you know what's going on. You might need to visit the doctor, or even go to the hospital. Don't ignore the flare-up or hope it will go away on its own.

Can I Prevent Asthma Flare-Ups?

You also have the power to prevent flare-ups, at least some of the time. Here's what you can do:

  • Always have your inhaler and spacer with you.
  • Stay away from things that may cause flare-ups (your triggers), such as tobacco smoke, cold and dry air, hot and humid air, pet dander, or pollen. If you don't know your triggers, ask your parents or your doctor.
  • If you are supposed to take a medicine every day, keep taking it, even if you feel fine and don’t have any symptoms. Don't skip it or take less of it because you're feeling better.
  • Work with your parents and doctor to follow an asthma action plan.

Reviewed by: Nemours Medical Experts
Date Reviewed: Sep 1, 2023

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