5 Weird Warnings of an Asthma Attack

Some of the clues are a little surprising, but if you know what to look for, you'll be better prepared for your next attack

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Beyond the Obvious

Coughing and wheezing are pretty reliable signs of an asthma attack. But are they the only signs? Not by a long shot, says Clifford Bassett, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY. Some of the clues are a little surprising, but if you know what to look for, you'll be better prepared for your next attack. Click through to learn some overlooked warning signs of an asthma attack.

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Excessive Sighing

No, you're probably not just feeling bored, blue or stressed out. Sighing can actually be a sign that you're about to have an asthma attack. According to Dr. Bassett, it may mean that your body is trying to get some more oxygen into your blood when it isn't getting enough. It's thought that sighing causes the airways in your lungs to open up, allowing more oxygen in.

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Leaning Forward

Your friends and family might think you're really interested in what they're saying, but if you're unconsciously leaning forward, it could spell trouble. People with asthma "may try to change position to 'get more air' and make breathing easier," says Bassett. This is also a way to cope with an attack in progress. It's called the tripod position, and it involves leaning forward and putting your hands on your knees, which helps the muscles you use to breathe work better. 

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Brain Fog and Irritability

Your brain needs oxygen to function. If you're gearing up for an asthma attack, your lungs are taking in less oxygen, and that means less oxygen gets to the rest of you—including your brain. And when your brain isn't getting enough oxygen, it can make it really hard to concentrate. You may also feel anxious or uptight, Bassett says. Confusion is a sign of a severe asthma attack that requires emergency care.

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One yawn doesn't mean an attack is on the way. But feeling overly tired could be another signal that your asthma isn't well-controlled and you're more at risk for an attack. Your asthma might be keeping you from a good night's sleep, making you groggy the next day. "An increase in nighttime cough can affect adequate and quality sleep and rest," says Bassett. Or, feeling tired could be from labored breathing, he adds. 

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The Sniffles

Sure, colds and asthma share some symptoms, like coughing and chest tightness. But colds can actually trigger asthma symptoms, too. A UK series of studies from 2014 showed that a cold virus can lead to inflammation of the airways in the lungs, especially in people with asthma. So make sure your asthma action plan includes what to do when sniffles strike. 

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What to Do

"While asthma can be life-threatening, it can also be managed successfully and allow participation in normal activities," says Bassett. Some things you can do include having a written asthma action plan, being aware of warning signs (especially the weird ones!) and knowing how to treat your symptoms with medication.

If your lips and nails turn blue, your heart beats faster than normal, or you have difficulty walking, talking or climbing stairs, it's time to get to a doctor, says Bassett.

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