Can You Die From an Asthma Attack? Knowing 4 Covert Truth

“Can you die from an asthma attack?” is one of the most pressing questions for individuals living with asthma, as the condition, while generally manageable, can become life-threatening in some cases.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory disease that causes inflammation and tightness of the airways, leading to breathing difficulties. The records of WHO 1states that around 235 million people from all around the world are affected by asthma, and in many countries, it is still rising.

The severity of this disease ranges from mild to severe and can also lead to death in some cases. Exposure to allergens2, irritants, pollutants, infections, stress, or physical activity are some factors that can increase the risk of severe asthma. This article will help us understand the severity and risks of asthma attacks and which factors can lead to death.

Asthma Symptoms

Mature man coughing on white background
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Symptoms of asthma include difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can occur at any time, but certain factors often trigger them.

Types of Asthma and Their Causes:

There are several types of asthma, each with unique causes and triggers. Allergic asthma, triggered by exposure to allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, or mold, is one such type.

Another type of asthma is non-allergic asthma, which can be triggered by irritants like smoke, air pollution, cold air, or strong odors.

Certain physical activities can lead to exercise-induced asthma, while irritants or allergens present in the workplace can trigger occupational asthma. Children can also get infected with allergies, viral infections, or a family history of asthma. 

You can also face this disease in your adulthood by obesity, respiratory infections3, or exposure to environmental pollutants.

How Asthma is Diagnosed and Treated:

Physical examination, medical history or breathing tests like spirometry 4of the patient are used to diagnose asthma. In medical history your doctor can ask you about your family history of asthma or allergies.

In a physical examination, a Spirometry test is performed, in which an individual blows into a device that measures how much air he or she can exhale and how quickly. The doctor may also use a stethoscope to check for signs of inflammation or allergies. 

Asthma - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology

Asthma treatment includes medication such as inhalers, which aid in expanding the airways and controlling inflammation. 

There are two types of inhalers: quick-relief inhalers, which provide instant relief during an asthma attack, and long-term control inhalers, which prevent symptoms from occurring.

Asthma patients should visit their health care regularly to monitor their symptoms and adjust their treatment as necessary.

Understanding Asthma Attacks

Triggers of Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks are the result of allergens, irritants, respiratory infections, exercise, emotional stress, and weather conditions. Pet dander5, dust mites, pollen, mold, and cockroach waste are a few of the most common triggers of asthma attacks.

Tobacco smoke, air pollution, strong odors, and fumes from cleaning products can also cause asthma attacks. Viruses or bacterial infections like colds, flu, or pneumonia can also be the cause.

A person with emotional stress can also encounter an asthma attack. People with exercise-induced asthma can encounter asthma attacks during physical activities. 

The Physiology of Asthma Attacks and How They Can Become Life-Threatening

An asthma attack can make breathing difficult as it narrows and inflames the airways. The airway muscles contracting around the airways further limit airflow, resulting in symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and breathing difficulty.

In severe instances, the airways can become extremely constricted, depriving the lungs and other organs of sufficient oxygen, ultimately leading to a life-threatening condition known as status asthmaticus. If not treated immediately and properly, this can result in respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, and even death.

Severity of Asthma Attacks

Different Levels of Asthma Attacks and How They Are Classified

Based on the severity, asthma attacks are divided into three categories.

Mild intermittent asthma with symptoms appearing less than twice a week but lasting for a few hours only.

Mild persistent asthma with symptoms occurring frequently more than twice a week and remaining for less than a day.

Moderate to severe persistent asthma with symptoms appearing on a regular basis and sometimes severe enough to hinder daily activities.

The Factors That Determine the Severity of an Asthma Attack

Various factors such as age, general health, the presence of other medical conditions, and the frequency and duration of symptoms determine the seriousness of asthma attacks. Infants, young children, and older adults are at higher risk due to differences in lung function and immune response.

Poorly managed asthma, other chronic health conditions, and weakened immune systems can also increase the risk of severe attacks. Individuals who experience frequent and prolonged asthma symptoms may be at higher risk for severe attacks.

The Risks Associated with Severe Asthma Attacks

Acute asthma episodes can pose a threat to life and necessitate prompt medical intervention. Without the proper treatment, the airways to the lungs become tightened, leading to less oxygen in the lungs and other organs, which can further result in respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, and even death.

If this condition is mismanaged, it can lead to long-term complications, such as lung function deficiency and an increase in respiratory infractions. 

Asthma patients should look out for proper health care to treat and prevent the disease.

Can You Die from an Asthma Attack?

Asthma-related deaths are a significant concern and represent a major public health issue. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 235 million people worldwide currently suffer from asthma, and an estimated 383,000 people die each year from the condition.

Illustration of the World Health Organization flag.
by speedfighter/ unlimphotos copyright 2022

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC6) report that in 2019, asthma was responsible for over 3,500 deaths and that asthma-related deaths have been increasing since the 1980s.

Furthermore, people from specific ethnic and racial backgrounds, such as African Americans and Hispanics, are at a higher risk of succumbing to asthma-related fatalities than other groups. 

The Causes of Death During an Asthma Attack

During an asthma attack, there is an increase in inflammation and restriction of the lung airways, which results in difficulty in breathing.

Deaths due to asthma attacks are generally caused due to the lack of oxygen supply to the tissues and organs of the body. Lack of oxygen in the body results in organ failure and even death in some cases.

In some cases, asthma attacks can lead to an instant drop in blood pressure, resulting in organ failure. In a severe attack, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest can take place due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the body. 

It is very crucial to identify the potential complications of asthma attacks for their prevention and timely treatment.

How to Prevent Fatal Asthma Attacks

Proactive management and rapid response to severe attacks are the approaches that can aid in preventing fatal asthma attacks. Some strategies for preventing fatal asthma attacks include:

Developing and following an appropriate asthma management plan, including regular check-ups with a healthcare provider and consistent medication use. Identifying and avoiding triggers, such as allergens, pollutants, and exercise-induced asthma triggers.

Knowing the signs of a severe asthma attack and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms worsen. Keeping emergency medications, such as rescue inhalers, readily available. Educating family, friends, and coworkers on recognizing and responding to severe asthma attacks.

Treatment and Management of Asthma Attacks

Emergency Treatment for Severe Asthma Attacks

During a severe asthma attack, the best emergency treatment would be medication and certain techniques that can aid in restoring normal breathing by opening the airways.

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This involves the use of inhaled bronchodilators, like albuterol, or corticosteroids with the motive to reduce the inflammation. Oxygen can also be given in the form of supplements to meet the normal oxygen level in blood if required.

Medications and Therapies for Managing Asthma Attacks

Improved breathing and reduced inflammation in the airway can be achieved with the assistance of medication and therapies. Medication can involve the use of inhaled bronchodilators, such as short-acting beta-agonists7, to quickly relieve symptoms during an attack, as well as inhaled corticosteroids to reduce inflammation over time.

Some other medications are available to manage asthma attacks, such as leukotriene modifiers and mast cell stabilizers.

Long-term Management of Asthma to Prevent Attacks

Long-term asthma management plays a very important role in tackling asthma attacks and improving respiratory health. Medical aid such as inhaled corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and hinder symptoms, can be opted for under long-term asthma management.

In addition, people with asthma should collaborate with their healthcare team to identify the trigger points and take measures to avoid them.

Conclusion

Asthma is a respiratory disease that inflames and restricts the airways, causing breathing difficulties and other symptoms. It is considered to be a controllable condition, but in some cases, it can also be life-threatening.

Because of the restriction, the airways become more narrow and swollen during such situations, leading to difficulty breathing. The severity of the attack can range from mild to severe and can also lead to fatalities in certain cases.

In some serious cases, the passage restriction can be so severe that the lungs and other organs receive inadequate oxygen, leading to a condition known as status asthmaticus.

Thus it becomes important for a person suffering from asthma to identify his trigger and risk related to it and take preventive measures at the same time. It is advised to an individual with asthma to collaborate with his healthcare regularly and seek medical attention timely. 

  1. World Health Organization. The WHO STEPwise approach to surveillance. No. WHO/EURO: 2021-2446-42201-58182. World Health Organization. Regional Office for Europe, 2021. ↩︎
  2. Costa, Joana, et al. “Are physicochemical properties shaping the allergenic potency of animal allergens?.” Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology 62.1 (2022): 1-36. ↩︎
  3. Morawska, Lidia, et al. “A paradigm shift to combat indoor respiratory infection.” Science 372.6543 (2021): 689-691. ↩︎
  4. Crimi, Claudia, et al. “Practical considerations for spirometry during the COVID-19 outbreak: Literature review and insights.” Pulmonology 27.5 (2021): 438-447. ↩︎
  5. Chu, Howard, et al. “Allergen‐specific immunotherapy for patients with atopic dermatitis sensitized to animal dander.” Immunity, inflammation and disease 8.2 (2020): 165-169. ↩︎
  6. Jernigan, Daniel B., CDC COVID, and Response Team. “Update: public health response to the coronavirus disease 2019 outbreak—United States, February 24, 2020.” Morbidity and mortality weekly report 69.8 (2020): 216. ↩︎
  7. Van Ganse, Eric, et al. “Effects of short-and long-acting beta-agonists on asthma exacerbations: a prospective cohort.” Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 124.3 (2020): 254-260. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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Aayush
Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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