Medical Perspectives | Others

July 30, 2021

Asthmatics have many ways to describe the feeling of an asthma attack, ranging from feeling like "fish out of water" to the heaviness of "an elephant sitting on my chest" to coughing that makes it difficult "to catch my breath", or even worse, the sensation of having "a pillow being held over my face".[1]


The gravity of an asthma attack cannot be overstated. Knowing the signs and symptoms is a good way to prepare and protect oneself from experiencing these feelings that are experienced during an attack.


While symptoms may vary on a case-to-case basis, these are some of the most common signs to be aware of.


The Mayo Clinic list includes severe shortness of breath, chest pains, and coughing or wheezing. Because of the swollen or inflamed airways during an attack, bronchial tubes become narrow from the extra mucus produced.[2]


If symptoms do not improve after medication or routine treatment, the patient/asthmatic may be experiencing a severe asthma attack. Additional symptoms of such a condition are chest retractions, pale or blue skin, and drowsiness in children.[3] In addition, these conditions may also be present: a fast heartbeat, being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep, confusion or dizziness, and fainting.[4]


There is an increased risk of a serious attack if any of the following conditions are present:[5]

  • previous severe asthma attack
  • emergency room treatment for asthma
  • previously required intubation for asthma attack
  • existence of other chronic conditions, like sinusitis or lung disease


The severity of an asthma attack may have dire or life-threatening consequences. In the Philippines, 2017 statistics show that asthma deaths reached 13,186 or 2.13% of total deaths.[6]


When an attack is imminent or the signs indicate an attack, implement the prescribed routine treatment of your doctor. If there is no improvement, seek emergency care or see your doctor immediately.


[1] Cannizzaro, T. [2016, September]. What Does an Asthma Attack Feel Like? Retrieved from


[2] Mayo Clinic Staff. [2019, August]. Asthma Attack. Retrieved from


[3] Falck, S. [2017, October]. Severe Asthma Attacks: Triggers, Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery. Retrieved from


[4] NHS UK. [2018, February]. Symptoms Asthma. Retrieved from


[5] Mayo Clinic Staff. [2019, August]. Asthma Attack. Retrieved from


[6] World Life [n.d.]. Philippines: Asthma. Retrieved from

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