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Asthma is a chronic condition that affects about 25 million Americans. For some, the minor symptoms may be a nuisance, but for others with more severe symptoms, asthma can be life threatening. Knowing how to spot an attack in its early stages is key to avoiding a dangerous situation.

What Is An Asthma Attack?

During an asthma attack, the muscles around your airways constrict or spasm.  The lining of the airways also becomes swollen or inflamed and can fill with thicker-than-normal mucus. Symptoms of an asthma attack may include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pressure
  • Coughing that won’t stop
  • Very rapid breathing

Call 911 if you think you may be having an asthma attack.

What Triggers An Asthma Attack?

Allergies are often the cause for worsening asthma symptoms. But cigarette smoke, pollutants in the air and cold weather can also cause more severe symptoms. Things can also worsen during exercise (exercise-induced asthma) or when you are battling a cold.

How Do I Recognize the Early Signs of an Asthma Attack?

Warning signs look very different from person to person and can be so mild that you may not relate the symptoms to asthma. Symptoms can start 24 to 48 hours before an attack. If you have been diagnosed with asthma, pay special attention whenever you experience these early warning signs to prevent an attack from getting worse:

  • A cough that does not go away, especially at night
  • Clearing your throat often
  • Feeling tired
  • Itchy, glassy or watery eyes
  • Feeling tired, easily upset, grouchy or moody
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy skin

These symptoms are often confused with those of the common cold. So it’s important to be attentive to these cues if you have moderate or severe asthma. If you do, you might benefit from a peak flow meter. It will help alert you to changes in your air flow so you can treat symptoms with medication and avoid significant difficulty in breathing.

Weekly Health Tips are brought to you by UCF Health, the College of Medicine’s physician practice. Offering primary and specialty care under one roof, UCF Health treats patients age 16 and up in primary care and age 18 and up for specialty care. Most major insurance plans are accepted. Two locations are now open: the original in East Orlando at Quadrangle and University boulevards just blocks from the main UCF campus, and the newest one in Medical City at Narcoossee Road and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard. Information for both facilities can be found at, or call (407) 266-DOCS to schedule an appointment.

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