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Asthma FAQs (cont.)

What Is an Asthma Attack Like?

People with asthma react in different ways to risk factors and triggers. Some experience asthma symptoms when they are exposed to several factors or triggers at once, while for others, exposure to one trigger alone is enough to set off an attack. Some people have more severe attacks when they are exposed to more than one trigger.

When people with asthma are exposed to their triggers, their immune systems start trying to fight off the allergens. This results in inflammation (swelling) of the walls or lining of the air passages that blocks or narrows the airways. This makes breathing difficult (like breathing through a straw for a long time) and noisy, and/or it causes coughing.

When breathing passages become irritated or infected, an asthma attack is triggered. Asthma attacks do not always occur immediately after someone is exposed to a trigger. Depending on the person and the particular trigger, an attack can happen hours or even days later. It may occur during either the day or night.

The main asthma symptom is wheezing. Wheezing is a whistling, hissing sound when breathing. This noise is made by the sound of air passing through narrowed tubes (air passages). Wheezes can occur during inhaling or exhaling but are usually heard while exhaling.

Other symptoms include breathlessness, chest tightness or pain, coughing, difficulty speaking, prolonged shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue.

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Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases worldwide and affects 22 million persons in the United States.

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