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What causes Asthma Attacks?

Asthma is an allergic condition of the airways in the lungs which can get inflamed and narrowed in response to a variety of trigger factors. It also leads to excess mucus production and clogging of the airways, making it very difficult for the patient to breathe. Asthma can develop at any age, with there being more than 10 million cases per year in India. With increasing global pollution, asthma has become a global phenomenon and cases of asthma are only set to rise further. Asthma interferes with daily activities and can even leads to serios life-threatening attacks. It needs prompt treatment with rescue inhalers and sometimes more stronger medications.

Asthma attack

An asthma attack can give rise to symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, cough, wheezing and chest pain. These symptoms can flare up into terrifying asthma attacks where the patient may feel as if their chest is being weighed down and they are unable to draw in enough air. What basically happens, is that the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes constrict, thus narrowing down the air passages and making it excruciatingly difficult to breathe. Appropriate medications given in a timely can reverse the situation.


Asthma attacks can be triggered by a variety of allergens, and can be divided into three broad categories – allergic, infectious and non-allergic. 

1. Allergen-induced asthma attacks can be triggered by coming in direct contact with irritants like animal dander or fur, cockroaches and their droppings, dust mites as well as pollen from certain type of flowers. Other common allergens include smoke, strong perfumes or odors, chemical fumes, etc. People with asthma should ideally refrain from keeping furry indoor pets to prevent asthma attacks.

2. Certain illnesses are also known to trigger asthmatic episodes. Viral or bacterial infections (even if they are mild in nature), common cold, sinusitis and other infections of the airways can trigger a major asthma attack. In such a situation, the patient has to deal with the infection as well as difficulties associated with an asthma attack. Basically, the presence of the germ in the lungs acts as a trigger to cause bronchospasm and tightening of the muscles of the airways, leading to difficulties in getting in enough oxygen.

3. There are a number of non-allergic factors that can trigger an asthma attack in some people too. These are very diverse in nature and include factors like strenuous exercise, physical activities like running or playing hard or divergent weather conditions like extreme cold or extreme heat. Strong emotions like anger, fear, crying or laughing too hard are also known to trigger asthmatic attacks in some people. Other less-common forms of asthmas include occupational asthma (triggered by irritants related to the workplace), nocturnal asthma (common when lying down) and asthma triggered by certain medicines that the patient is reactive to. 


To help the doctor make the right diagnosis, patients need to pay close attention to their symptoms, triggers, frequency and duration. All these will help the doctor design the right treatment plan for you.

Known asthmatics usually take maintenance medications which could be in the form of inhaled steroids of varying strengths or oral medications, depending on their needs. Then there is that category of patients who only require asthma medications on a ‘need-to’ basis. Such patients usually take quick-relief or rescue inhalers whenever there are signs of an oncoming attack. 

In patients where the symptoms persist, then systemic corticosteroids may become necessary to help in reducing the swelling and inflammation in the airways.

Whatever it is, the patient needs to stay calm and use their medications.

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