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Nocturnal Asthma: How to Manage And Prevent Nighttime Asthma Attacks

Nocturnal Asthma: How to Manage And Prevent Nighttime Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks occur when the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs become swollen or inflamed. Having an attack can be a terrifying experience: you struggle to take a full breath in and you feel your chest tighten – sometimes, to the point of feeling as if someone is sitting on you. What’s even more concerning is this: the symptoms are usually worse at night. Here’s what you need to know about nocturnal asthma.

Nocturnal Asthma: Overview

Asthma attacks can occur anytime, but many patients report worse symptoms at night. Experts call it nocturnal or nighttime asthma, and patients may experience it regardless of the type of asthma they have.

To clarify, nocturnal asthma is NOT a type of asthma. In fact, the nighttime occurrence of symptoms in asthma is what defines asthma.

But, the thing with nocturnal asthma is it can disrupt sleep. According to at least one report, too little sleep can lead to more asthma attacks in adults.

Some people may not be familiar with nighttime asthma, but it seems to be a common occurrence. In fact, in one research involving more than 13,000 patients with persistent asthma, 60% reported experiencing nocturnal symptoms.

Understanding The Different Types of Asthma

Possible Reasons Why Asthma is Worse at Night

At this point, you might be wondering: why does nocturnal asthma happen?

Experts say there are several possible reasons:

  • At night, the body produces less steroid hormones, which typically help ease symptoms.
  • Lying down puts pressure on the chest and lungs, making it harder to breathe. Furthermore, lying down can trigger coughing or cause some mucus to trickle down your throat.
  • Air is usually colder at night; this can act as an asthma trigger.

Of course, we cannot discount the possibility that your bedroom has other asthma triggers, like dust mites and pet dander.

How to Manage Nocturnal Asthma

In case you have an asthma attack at night, the following tips might help manage it:

  • Sit up straight; this position keeps your airways open.
  • Use your reliever or rescue inhaler as prescribed; if one is not available, relax and take deep breaths.
  • Once you feel better, give yourself some time to check if the symptoms really eased up before going to sleep. Dealing with the symptoms in one go is better than going back to sleep and then later waking up because the earlier attack didn’t completely stop.

nocturnal asthma

How to Prevent Nighttime Asthma

The first step to prevent nocturnal asthma, or regular asthma in general, is to adhere to your prescribed medications.

Sometimes, patients stop taking their primary asthma meds because their attacks are few and far in between. But, the thing is, adherence to the medicine is a huge part of not having the attacks. If you stop taking them, the attacks may come more frequently.

Besides this, the following tips will also help:

  • Remove triggers: Cleaning your room regularly and washing your pillowcases and bedsheets in hot water help remove dust mites. Dust-proof mattress and pillow protectors might also be a good investment. Likewise, keep your pets out of your room.
  • Avoid strong odors. Cleanliness doesn’t have a smell, so there’s no need to use perfumed sprays in your room. If, in the process of cleaning, perfumed sprays were used, open all windows and let the odor out before staying in the room.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Getting sick can trigger asthma attacks, especially if the one affected is your respiratory tract. Strengthen your immune system by having a healthy, balanced diet, appropriate exercise, and regular check-ups. Finally, consider getting a flu shot yearly.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a humidifier. A humidifier helps moisten the air (cold, dry air may trigger asthma attacks).

Finally, although it is not a preventive measure, always make sure that your rescue inhaler is never empty. Have one on the bedside table just in case you experience nighttime asthma.

Key Takeaways

Many asthma patients report worse attacks during the night; experts call this nocturnal or nighttime asthma. The best ways to prevent this are to adhere to your primary medicines, avoid triggers, and keep yourself healthy.

If you keep on having nighttime asthma, make an appointment with your doctor.

Learn more about Respiratory Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Too little sleep can mean more asthma attacks in adults
Accessed April 15, 2021

Underdiagnosis of nocturnal symptoms in asthma in general practice
Accessed April 15, 2021

Accessed April 15, 2021

Asthma Attack
Accessed April 15, 2021

Sleep and asthma
Accessed April 15, 2021

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jul 07, 2021
Fact Checked by Dr. Jeannette Daquinag