Asthma attacks

If you, or someone you know, are having an asthma attack, follow this emergency advice.

Important: for information on asthma attacks in children, visit our child asthma attack page.

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 is getting faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly
  • 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, if possible take your written asthma action plan with you so staff can see details of your asthma medicines.

What to do 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.

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

Share and print this asthma attack card and keep it with you:

 What to do if your symptoms improve

  • Not sure whether to go to A&E? Read our A&E Guide.
  • If your symptoms improve and you don't need to call 999, you still need to make an urgent same-day appointment with your GP or asthma nurse.
  • Check if you've been given rescue prednisolone tablets to keep at home. If you have then take them as instructed by your GP or asthma nurse. You can find this information on your written asthma action plan. Or take them as written on the packet.

After a hospital admission for an emergency asthma attack:

  • Make an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse within two working days of your discharge.
  • 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 managed.
  • One in six people who have an asthma attack needs hospital care again within just two weeks. If you've been recently hospitalised, it's important you know what things you can do to help avoid future attacks and cut your risk of ending up back in hospital.

Don't 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 managed as it could be. If your asthma symptoms are getting worse or you're using your reliever inhaler more, don't ignore it.

Make an urgent appointment to see your GP, asthma nurse or consultant within 24 hours.

Reduce your risk - take our test

Our asthma attack risk checker is designed to give you a clear picture of whether you need to take better care of your asthma right now. It takes about 3 minutes to complete and will ask you questions based on the underlying factors that have been shown to raise your risk. It will use your answers to identify whether you're at:

  • highly increased risk
  • increased risk
  • no increased risk

of an asthma attack.

Reduce your risk - what you can do

There are lots of things you can do to help reduce your risk of an asthma attack:

  • Take your medicines as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse
  • Follow a written asthma action plan - this cuts your risk of ending up in hospital with asthma by four times
  • Have regular asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse
  • Check with your GP or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly
  • Avoid the things that trigger your asthma where possible
  • Monitor your asthma symptoms so you're aware if your symptoms are getting worse
  • Don't smoke
  • Keep your weight at a healthy level, or lose weight if you need to after checking with your GP or asthma nurse that your weight loss plan is suitable for you
  • Have regular flu vaccinations if you need to

Reduce your risk - even if your asthma symptoms are mild

Although you're more likely to have an asthma attack if you've got moderate or severe asthma, you can still have a potentially life-threatening asthma attack if you've got mild asthma. That's why it's important to take your asthma medicines exactly as prescribed even if you're not getting any symptoms, or you're getting very few and/or mild symptoms.

Last updated July 2016

Next review due July 2019