Asthma Attacks:

Causes, Signs & Symptoms

Managing asthma can be challenging, especially if you aren’t sure of the signs and symptoms that let you know your control is not optimal. Here, you will find all the information you should need to manage your asthma and help to prevent acute asthma attacks.

What Is An Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack is characterised by a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by tightening of the muscles surrounding your airways, this is known as a bronchospasm. The lining of the airways also becomes swollen and inflamed during an asthma attack, and thicker mucus (more than normal) is produced. Bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production all contribute to the symptoms of an asthma attack such as:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath

These lead to difficulty doing routine, everyday tasks and can interfere with sleep. 

What Causes An Asthma Attack?

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, however, we know that the airways  are more sensitive to allergens and triggers. An inflammatory reaction occurs when exposed to a trigger, causing the airways to become swollen, irritated, and hypersensitive. They begin to narrow and become blocked with sticky mucus.

The cause of asthma is believed to be multifactorial and the following factors are likely to play a significant role:

  • Genetics – if an immediate family member has asthma, it is likely that this will increase the chance of your developing it
  • Hygiene standards – changes in hygiene standards in the developed world has had a significant impact on the development of our immune systems… our environments are ‘too clean’
  • Illnesses – common colds, flu or chest infections can lead to adult-onset asthma
  • Lifestyle – smoking, obesity or being overweight can increase the likelihood of asthma development
  • Air pollution
  • Increased exposure to potential chemical triggers e.g. cleaning products, aerosols, cosmetics etc.

How Do I Recognise Early Signs Of An Acute Asthma Attack?

Early warning signs are changes that occur shortly before the start of an acute asthma attack. These changes usually start before the well-known symptoms of asthma and are usually the earliest indicators that your asthma is worsening. 

Early warning indicators of an asthma attack may include:

  • Coughing frequently, especially at night
  • Trouble sleeping (nighttime asthma)
  • Peak flow metre readings have reduced
  • Shortness of breath or more easily losing your breath
  • Decreased exercise tolerance (unable to perform at your usual level) 
  • Wheezing or coughing during or after exercise
  • Tired, easily irritated, or moody
  • Sings of cold or allergies (sneezing, runny nose, cough, nasal congestion, sore throat, and headache)

As the symptoms of an asthma attack can deteriorate rapidly, it’s critical to manage these symptoms as soon as you notice them.

Asthma Attack Symptoms

Symptoms may vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe, lasting anything from an hour to days, or until treated. 

Generally, if you are experiencing an asthma attack, symptoms can become severe, often quite suddenly.

In rare situations, asthma can be fatal but this, unfortunately, happens in Ireland every year. This is preventable, which is why it is ESSENTIAL to take your preventer medication on a regular basis and as directed by your doctor and to ensure you are not overusing your reliever inhaler.

The most common asthma symptoms & signs include:

  • Wheezing (whistling sound when breathing)
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest tightness (constricting feeling)
  • Coughing
  • Fast, short breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Drowsiness, confusion or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Blue lips and/ or fingers
  • Fainting 

Here is more information on asthma attacks.


How Can I Prevent An Asthma Attack?

The most effective way to prevent an asthma attack is to ensure your asthma symptoms are well controlled. This involves adhering to your written asthma action plan in order to track symptoms and adjust your medication (all patients who have a diagnosis of asthma should have a written asthma action plan from their doctor or nurse).

While you may not be able to eradicate your risk of an acute asthma attack entirely, your chances of having one are significantly reduced if your symptoms are well controlled. Take your inhaler medications exactly as directed in your written asthma action plan. If you do not have an asthma action plan, or if it needs updating you should speak with a doctor as soon as possible.

The most important part of asthma management is to ensure you use your preventer medication to control airway inflammation. This may be needed daily, or when you have a flare of symptoms. In any case, if you are needing to use a reliever inhaler, even just occasionally, then you should be using a preventer inhaler at that time too.

What Should I Do If I Have An Asthma Attack?

If you believe you are having an asthma attack, you should immediately:

  1. Sit up straight and try to remain calm
  2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs
  3. Call 999 for an ambulance if you feel worse at any moment or if you do not feel better after 10 puffs
  4. If the ambulance does not arrive within 10 minutes and your symptoms do not improve, repeat to step 2
  5. If your symptoms do not improve after repeating step 2, and the ambulance still has not come, call 999 again immediately

In an emergency, never be afraid to call for help.

If possible, bring the information about your medications (or your personal asthma action plan) with you to the hospital.


Repeat Prescription

Asthma Treatment

Request a prescription for Asthma Treatment online with! Once your request has been approved, we can send your prescription directly to your chosen pharmacy via secure Healthmail.

How Can I Get A Prescription For Asthma Treatment

It is so simple to request a prescription for Asthma Treatment via’s online prescription service. 

All you need to do is fill in a short and secure questionnaire. Then, one of our Irish-registered doctors will review your request to make sure it is safe and suitable for you. Once approved, we’ll send your prescription to an Irish pharmacy of your choice.

There’s no need to make an appointment with a GP unless it is your first time seeking a prescription for asthma. If this is the case, you can book an online video consultation with one of our experienced GPs. There, we can help you find the right treatment for you.

How It Works

Through an online medical questionnaire, face-to-face video consultation or home health test, our online doctors will review your case and prescribe the best treatment for you.

Step 1

Online Questionnaire

Fill in a secure and simple online questionnaire for your desired service.

Step 2

Medical Review

Our Irish-registered doctors will review to ensure you are medically suitable.

Step 3

Decision Made
Your treatment will be approved if you are deemed medically suitable.