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How long does an asthma attack last?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Feb 2, 2021.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

An asthma attack or flare-up can last a few minutes if it is mild or hours to days if it is severe. The duration varies based on the trigger and how long the airways have been inflamed.

During an asthma attack, your airways become more sensitive to asthma triggers such as:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Smoke

When this occurs, the lining of the airways can become inflamed. In addition, the muscles around the airways tighten and your airways may become clogged with mucus. As a result, your lungs can’t move air in and out efficiently, causing:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

By contrast, the airways are fully open during normal breathing, and air moves in and out with ease.

Treating an asthma attack

Asthma treatment typically involves a long-term daily controller(s), plus another rescue inhaler for asthma attacks. These short-acting rescue inhalers can usually stop an asthma attack by relaxing the airways. If the asthma attack is more serious, systemic steroids may be needed to reduce airway inflammation. If necessary, asthma medications and treatment regimens can be adjusted to minimize the number, severity and duration of asthma attacks.

Some asthma attacks are severe and will require immediate medical attention. If asthma medication is not working and breathing is getting worse, not better, call 911 or go to the emergency department.

References
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Asthma. May 21,2020. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma.  [Accessed November 9, 2020].
  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. How to Treat an Asthma Attack. July 1, 2011. Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2011/0701/p49.html. [Accessed November 9, 2020].
  3. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Asthma Attack. Available at:
  4. https://acaai.org/asthma/symptoms/asthma-attack. [Accessed November 9, 2020].

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