Asthma Attacks – Symptoms, Causes & Support

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties, it can affect people of all ages and whilst it usually starts in childhood, it can also develop for the first time in adults.

There are simple treatments that can help manage the symptoms and reduce the impact on your life, however, there is no current cure.  Asthma is a long-term condition for many people, particularly if it first develops when you’re an adult.

In children, it sometimes goes away or improves during the teenage years, but can come back later in life.

The symptoms can usually be controlled with treatment. Most people will have normal, active lives, although some people with more severe asthma may have ongoing problems.


  • A whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
  • Breathlessness 
  • A tight chest, which may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • Coughing 

When symptoms worsen and severity increases this is known as an asthma attack. 

Getting Support

You should see a GP if you think you or your child may have asthma. Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment. Your GP will usually be able to diagnose asthma by asking about symptoms and carrying out some simple tests.


Asthma is usually treated by using an inhaler, that lets you breathe in medicines. There are two types of inhalers available: 

  • reliever inhalers – used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
  • preventer inhalers – used every day to prevent asthma symptoms happening

Some people may also be given tablets to take.

If you see someone having an asthma attack, help them to a safe space and encourage them to sit up and lean forward slightly as this may make it easier for them to breathe. Encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply, and help them get their inhaler. Reassure them that you will stay with them and if it worsens that you will call 999. 

Call 999 if they:

  • are having their first attack
  • stop breathing
  • are finding it difficult to talk or make a noise
  • are becoming exhausted
  • aren’t helped by their inhaler
  • don’t have any asthma medication with them
  • get worse.

Causes and Triggers

Asthma is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This makes the tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily narrow.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • allergies (such as house dust mites, animal fur or pollen)
  • smoke, pollution and cold air
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Infections like colds or flu

It is important to identify what your triggers may be, and avoid them where possible to help keep symptoms under control.


Although asthma can normally be kept under control, it’s still a serious condition that can cause a number of problems. So it is important to follow your treatment plan and not ignore your symptoms if they’re getting worse.  If asthma isn’t controlled effectively it can cause additional problems such as:

  • feeling tired all the time
  • underperformance at, or absence from, work or school
  • stress, anxiety or depression 
  • disruption of your work and leisure because of unplanned visits to a GP or hospital
  • Lung infections (pneumonia)
  • Delays in growth or puberty in children
  • Severe attacks can be life-threatening 

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