AllergyWhat Causes Asthma Attacks

Asthma is a very common condition, affecting 1 in 9 Australians. Knowing what causes asthma attacks, how to relieve symptoms and how to prevent asthma attacks can make all the difference in an asthma emergency.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a long term condition that affects a person’s airways and lungs. When exposed to certain triggers, the airways become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest Tightness
  • Fatigue, Tiredness or Exhaustion

Common symptoms of asthma

Sometimes a person may experience an asthma attack where their asthma symptoms are more severe than usual. Severe asthma attacks may require professional medical attention.

What causes a person to develop asthma?

It’s not clear why someone may develop asthma, although some things may make you more at risk of developing the condition.

Risk factors for childhood asthma include:

  • A family history of asthma (someone else in your family having asthma)
  • Being born premature or with a low birth weight
  • Mother smoked while pregnant
  • Living in a house with cigarette smoke
  • Being exposed to air pollution

People can develop asthma at any age, not just in childhood. A person may develop asthma in their adulthood if they are exposed to things like air pollution and dry, cold air or if they breathe in dust that they are allergic to. This is sometimes referred to as “adult-onset asthma”.

What are the different types of asthma?

People who live with asthma have a wide range of experiences. The severity and frequency of symptoms can vary from person to person and may even change throughout a person’s life.

Asthma is sometimes classified according to the severity and frequency of symptoms.

  • Mild intermittent asthma results in mild symptoms that occur less than two days a week. This type of asthma usually doesn’t greatly affect a person’s day-to-day life activities.
  • Mild persistent asthma describes when someone has mild symptoms that occur more often than two days a week.
  • Moderate persistent asthma may affect a person’s daily activity somewhat. Symptoms are moderate and occur daily.
  • Severe persistent asthma is when severe symptoms occur multiple times a day and most nights. Daily activities for people with severe asthma can be quite limited.

Asthma is sometimes also classified according to the specific asthma triggers, such as:

  • Allergic asthma means that asthma symptoms are triggered by things the person is allergic to. This could be pollen, dust mites, mould or certain types of food.
  • Exercise-induced asthma is when asthma symptoms are triggered by physical activity.
  • Occupational asthma is when symptoms are triggered by workplace triggers such as smoke, gases, dust or chemicals.
  • Seasonal asthma is when symptoms only occur during certain parts of the year, for example in spring when there is a lot of pollen in the air.

What causes asthma attacks?

An asthma attack can be triggered by a number of things. Not everyone with asthma is triggered by the same things, nor will they necessarily experience the same symptoms or severity of symptoms when exposed to asthma triggers.

Common triggers include:

  • Allergens like pollen, dust mites and mould
  • food allergies
  • smoke, including tobacco smoke, fire smoke and air pollution
  • physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • viral infections
  • bad weather such as thunderstorms or high humidity

How to prevent asthma

Most people who live with asthma can gain control over their symptoms with the right asthma relief treatments. Treatment typically involves reliever and preventer medicines.

Reliever medicine

Reliever medicine describes types of asthma medicines that are designed to relieve a person’s symptoms quickly if they experience an asthma flare-up or asthma attack. Reliever inhalers are a very important component of school first aid supplies and should be readily available to help quickly relieve asthma flare-ups.

Children and adults with asthma should always carry a reliever inhaler or “puffer” with them in case of an asthma attack. The medicine inside an inhaler relaxes the muscles in your airways, opening the airways up and making it easier to breathe.

Reliever inhalers are usually not the only treatment for a person with asthma. Individuals should consult professional medical advice about how to reduce the risk of an asthma attack, as well as how to manage their symptoms.

Preventer medicine

Preventer medicines are designed to reduce the risk of someone experiencing a severe asthma attack. Most preventer medicines contain corticosteroids which help soothe inflammation and reduce sensitivity inside the lungs.

Preventer medicines are usually taken daily and are used to help treat the underlying causes of a person’s symptoms. Not everyone needs to take preventer medicine, and professional health advice should be sought about what is the best asthma action plan for the individual.

What do you do when someone is having an asthma attack?

An asthma attack is when someone’s asthma symptoms flare up worse than they would on a normal day. A severe asthma attack can quickly turn into an emergency that requires urgent medical assistance, so it is important to know what to do if you recognise the common symptoms.

If someone is having difficulty breathing, can’t speak a sentence in one breath or their reliever inhaler is not relieving their symptoms, you should call 000.

To deliver asthma first aid to someone:

    1. Sit the person in an upright position.
    2. Give four puffs of the reliever puffer.
    3. Wait four minutes and then give four more puffs if their condition has not improved.
    4. Call 000 if there is still no improvement.

Ensure you have the right first aid equipment for any emergency

Healthcare providers, schools, workplaces and community organisations should be prepared with a clear asthma action plan to help protect people in their care. Having an emergency anaphylaxis & asthma kit in an easy to access location is a necessity.


It’s important to know what causes asthma attacks and how to treat them. Having the right first aid equipment, including reliever inhalers for asthma, could help save lives in an emergency.

Order wholesale medical supplies online today with LFA First Response.

References: Asthma – Complications, Causes & Treatments

Checkout the Infographic.

the different types of asthma

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