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How can I tell if someone is having an asthma attack?

Many people with asthma describe attacks as feeling as though they are breathing through a straw. People who are having an asthma attack:

  • wheeze (high-pitched breathing sounds or high-pitched dry cough)
  • cough when they try to breathe
  • breath fast
  • use their neck and belly muscles to breathe
  • feel as though they cannot catch their breath

You often can tell when a person is having an asthma attack by the hoarse whistling sound made while exhaling. This sound, known as wheezing, occurs because air becomes trapped in the lungs. Coughing after exercise, crying or laughing are other signs that an asthma attack could begin.

Signs of an asthma attack include:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Inability to talk without stopping for a breath
  • Feelings of fear or confusion

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.