Asthma attacks

You're having an asthma attack if any of the following happens:

  • Your reliever isn't helping or lasting over four hours
  • Your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
  • You're too breathless or it's difficult to speak, eat or sleep
  • Your breathing may get faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly
  • Children may complain of a tummy ache.

Don't be afraid of causing a fuss, even at night. If you go to A&E (Accident and Emergency) or are admitted to hospital, take your written asthma action plan with you if possible so staff can see details of your asthma medicines.

What to do in an asthma attack

The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults and are the recommended steps to follow in an asthma attack:

  1. Sit up straight - don't lie down. Try to keep calm.
  2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  3. If you feel worse at any point while you're using your inhaler or you don't feel better after 10 puffs or you're worried at any time, call 999 for an ambulance
  4. If the ambulance is taking longer than 15 minutes you can repeat step 2 

If your symptoms improve and you don't need to call 999, you still need to make an urgent same day appointment. You can also check if you've been given rescue prednisolone tablets. If you have then take these as instructed by your GP/asthma nurse, or as instructed on the packet.

After an emergency asthma attack:

  • Make an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse within 2 working days of your attack.
  • Before you leave hospital make sure you've been given a written asthma action plan and have been shown how to use your inhalers in the best way
  • You will also need another review with a hospital specialist at one month to check your treatment plan and make sure your asthma is well controlled.

Do not ignore it if your symptoms are getting worse

Asthma attacks are the result of symptoms getting gradually worse over a few days that you may not have noticed. Needing to use your reliever inhaler more than three times a week may suggest that your asthma is not as well controlled as it could be. If your asthma symptoms are getting worse or you're using your reliever inhaler more, don't ignore it.

If your symptoms continue to get worse, make an urgent appointment to see your doctor or asthma nurse within 24 hours.

Reduce your risk

You can do a lot to reduce your risk of having an asthma attack by taking your asthma medicines as prescribed, as well as looking after your health with regular activity and by maintaining a healthy weight. Using a written asthma action plan cuts your risk of ending up in hospital with asthma by four times.

But if you do experience an asthma attack, here is the latest advice on what to do.

IMPORTANT! This asthma attack information is not designed for people using either a Symbicort inhaler on the Symbicort SMART regime or a Fostair inhaler on the Fostair MART regime. If you are on either the Symbicort SMART or Fostair MART regime, please speak to your GP or asthma nurse to get the correct asthma attack information.

Click here to download an asthma action plan

Doctor giving an Asthma Review

Recently hospitalised

We want to help you to avoid future attacks and to know what action to take if you have another attack.

Click here to read more

Man using a Metered Dose Inhaler with a Large Volume Spacer

Asthma Risk Test

Avoid risks: this test is for people with asthma who are 12 years or older.

Click here to read more

A&E Guide

A&E Guide for people with asthma

Find out when to seek emergency asthma care and how to reduce your risk of needing it in the first place.

Click here to read more

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