Asthma attacks

Follow this emergency advice if you're having an asthma attack.

Four simple steps to take if you are having an asthma attack

You're having an asthma attack if you are experiencing any of these:

  • 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

Asthma attacks can be fatal – three people die from asthma attacks in the UK every day. If you're having an asthma attack, it is vital that you act now.

What to do in an asthma attack:

  • Sit up straight
    Don't lie down. Try to keep calm.
  • Take your blue inhaler
    Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  • Call 999 if you don't feel better
    Do this if you feel worse at any point, or if you don't feel better after using 10 puffs of your reliever inhaler.
  • Take your blue inhaler again after 15 minutes
    If you're waiting for the ambulance for longer than 15 minutes, take one puff every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs. 

Important: This asthma attack information is NOT for people on a SMART or MART regime. If you are on a SMART or MART regime, speak to your GP or asthma nurse to get the right asthma attack advice for you.

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What to do during an asthma attack

Respiratory Physiotherapist Sonia Munde explains what to do if someone is having an asthma attack.

Video: What to do during an asthma attack

Respiratory Physiotherapist Sonia Munde explains what to do if someone is having an asthma attack.

The early warning signs of an asthma attack – and how to stop it coming on

Book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse if you are experiencing one or more of these signs:

  • Your symptoms are coming back (wheeze, tightness in your chest, feeling breathless, cough).
  • You’re waking up at night because of your asthma.
  • Your symptoms are getting in the way of your day-to-day routine (e.g. work, family life, exercising).
  • You need to use your reliever inhaler (usually blue) because of your asthma symptoms three times a week or more.

If you recognise any of these signs, they are telling you an asthma attack could be on its way. This is your chance to stop it coming on. Book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse or visit your local walk-in centre. They can help you to stop an asthma attack before it happens, or make it less serious so you don’t end up in hospital.

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What to do after an asthma attack

There are three key steps you'll need to take as soon as possible after an asthma attack. These will help stop you from having another attack. One in six people who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack need emergency treatment again within two weeks. It's tempting to think that after an asthma attack you can go back to living your life as normal. Asthma attacks are not normal, even for people with asthma. You shouldn't have to accept them as part of your everyday life.

Last updated January 2019
Next review due January 2022