Dr. M.J. Bazos, Patient Handout
Asthma Flare-ups
Why do I need to worry about flare-ups?
To keep your asthma under control, you need to know what to do when you have a flare-up of symptoms (sometimes called an “exacerbation” or an “asthma attack”). First, you need to know the warning signs of a flare-up. Second, you need to know what to do when your asthma gets worse so you can get it under control quickly.
What causes asthma symptoms to flare up?
Your asthma can flare up for different reasons. Allergies can make your asthma symptoms get worse. Viral infections (such as a cold), tobacco, pollutants (such as wood smoke), cold air, exercise, fumes from chemicals or perfume, sinus infections and heartburn can all cause a flare-up. For some people, strong emotions or stress can trigger an asthma attack. Pay attention to the way these things affect your asthma. If you and your doctor figure out which things bother your asthma, you can start trying to address them.
What are the symptoms of an asthma flare-up?
Common symptoms are coughing, feeling breathless, a feeling of tightness in the chest and wheezing (breathing that makes a hoarse, squeaky, musical or whistling sound). Watch yourself every day for any of these symptoms.
How do I know how serious a flare-up is?
Your doctor will show you how to keep track of your asthma by using a peak flow meter. This device measures your peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR). First, you find out your “personal best” peak flow. This is the highest reading you can get on the meter over a 2-week period when your asthma is under good control.
Here are some guidelines on using a peak flow meter to find out how serious an asthma flare-up is:
How is an asthma flare-up treated?
If you feel like you’re having a flare-up, use your quick-acting medicine or quick-relief inhaler right away. Be sure you and your doctor talk beforehand about how much medicine to take during a flare-up.
To figure out how serious the flare-up is, use your peak flow meter after you use the quick-acting medicine. If your peak flow is less than 50% of your personal best, your flare-up is serious.
Ask your doctor for written directions about treating asthma flare-ups. (Your doctor may have a form to give you, or you can print out this one.) If you have the symptoms of a serious flare-up or if your peak flow is less than 50% of your personal best, call your doctor right away or go directly to the nearest emergency room (by ambulance, if necessary).