People with asthma have chronic inflammation of their lung airways, which may noticeably affect their breathing all the time or it may only become noticeable during an asthma attack.
Asthma is marked by hypersensitivity of the lung airways to irritants. During an asthma attack, an irritant causes three major changes to the lung airways: swelling of the airway lining, release of mucus that impedes air flow, and bronchoconstriction, a tightening of the muscles that surround the airways of the lungs. These symptoms all narrow the airways and obstruct the flow of air into and out of the lungs, making it harder to breathe. The result is the symptoms of asthma: coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
A severe asthma attack can cause the airways to close to a point where there is not enough oxygen getting into the lungs to supply the body's vital organs; without treatment it can lead to death. During a severe asthma attack, symptoms often may not respond to medication. The symptoms of a severe asthma attack include:
-- Severe wheezing, when breathing both in and out
-- Using neck and /or chest muscles to assist breathing
-- Coughing that just doesn't stop
-- Severe chest tightness or pressure
-- Shortness of breath
-- Feeling anxious or panicky
-- Blue skin coloration (cyanosis)
Continued on page 5: Who is at risk for asthma?