Asthma attacks

Four people die every day of an asthma attack. Knowing what to do in an asthma attack could save lives.

Easy to follow emergency advice on what to do if you or someone you’re with has an asthma attack.

On this page:


What to do in an asthma attack

  1. Sit up straight - try to keep calm.
  2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds up to 10 puffs.
  3. If you feel worse at any point OR you don’t feel better after 10 puffs call 999 for an ambulance.
  4. If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and your symptoms are not improving, repeat step 2.
  5. If your symptoms are no better after repeating step 2, and the ambulance has still not arrived, contact 999 again immediately.

Important: this asthma attack advice does not apply to you if you use a MART inhaler. Get more information and advice about the MART regime.

What to do in an asthma attack

Find out what to do during an asthma attack from Naomi, one of Asthma + Lung UK's respiratory specialist nurses.

Video: What to do in an asthma attack

Find out what to do during an asthma attack from Naomi, one of Asthma + Lung UK's respiratory specialist nurses.

Know the signs of an asthma attack

You’re having an asthma attack if:

  • your blue reliever isn't helping, or you need to use it more than every four hours
  • you're wheezing a lot, have a very tight chest, or you're coughing a lot
  • you're breathless and find it difficult to walk or talk
  • your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly

You may have all of these signs and symptoms. Or you may have just some of them. For example, you may not wheeze.

Know your early warning signs

An asthma attack happens when your symptoms get much worse. This can happen quite suddenly or can build up gradually over a few days.

You can stop an asthma attack before it happens, or make it less serious so you don’t end up in hospital, by recognising when your symptoms are getting worse. 

When to call 999

Don’t delay getting help if you have an asthma attack. Call 999 if your reliever isn’t helping, or lasting four hours, or you’re worried at any time.

“An asthma attack is a real emergency, and could be life-threatening,” says Asthma + Lung UK’s in-house GP, Dr Andy Whittamore.

“Getting help when you need it is so important, to make sure you’re treated quickly. Never think you’re wasting anyone’s time.”

When to see your GP

If you managed your asthma attack with your blue reliever inhaler, and your symptoms improved, you still need to make an urgent same-day appointment with your doctor. You need an urgent asthma review after the attack. 

After your asthma attack

If you’ve had an asthma attack, whether you went to hospital or not, find out what you can do now to lower your risk of having another attack

More support and advice about asthma attacks

If you’re worried about asthma attacks, you can speak to a respiratory nurse specialist on our Helpline by calling 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.

Get more advice about what to do if your child has an asthma attack. 


Last updated January 2021
Next review due January 2024

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