Recently hospitalised - advice for adults

If you’ve just had an asthma attack – whether or not you went to hospital - this is what to do next.

If you are looking for information because your child has just had an asthma attack, please go to Your child’s asthma attack recovery plan.

1 in 6 people who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack need emergency treatment again within two weeks.

It can be a real shock to end up in hospital or being treated in an ambulance due to an asthma attack. You might feel weak and drained, and anxious about it happening again. Even if you didn’t have to go to hospital, an asthma attack can be a frightening experience.

Whether or not you needed emergency treatment, you may be wondering how to lower your risk of having another asthma attack. The information here will tell you how to look after yourself immediately after an asthma attack - and how to reduce your risk of having another one.  

Have I had an asthma attack?

  • You’ve had an asthma attack if you had these symptoms:
  • Your reliever inhaler didn’t help, or the effects didn’t last over four hours.
  • You were breathless and/or found it hard to speak, eat or sleep.
  • Your symptoms – such as tight chest, wheeze, cough and breathlessness – got worse.
  • Your breathing got faster or you found it hard to get your breath in.

Not everyone who has an asthma attack will go to hospital. Sometimes, for example, your reliever inhaler will ease symptoms before they get more serious. But you’ve still had an asthma attack – and it’s important to take steps to avoid having another one.

Four things to do straight after an asthma attack

1. Keep taking your medicines 

Using your inhalers as prescribed is the best way to help prevent another asthma attack and stay as free from symptoms as possible. You may be surprised to learn that many people don’t use their inhalers properly. If you don’t, it means you won’t be getting all the benefits from your medicine. You’re likely to notice improvements from making even small tweaks. So if you ended up in hospital, get your inhaler technique checked before you leave, and make sure you have enough of your medicines. If you didn’t have to go to hospital, make sure your GP or asthma nurse checks your technique at your urgent asthma review. 

Also, ensure you take your medicine as often as your doctor has directed.  The effects of your preventer inhaler build up over time and will start to wear off if you don’t take it when you should.  Planning when you’ll take your inhaler can help. For example, if you need to take your preventer inhaler twice a day, you could decide you’ll take it when you brush your teeth morning and night.

2. Book an urgent asthma review

If you didn’t need to go to hospital, make an urgent same-day appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse. If you were hospitalised, you need to see your GP or asthma nurse within two working days of coming out of hospital. The hospital should let your GP practice know you’ve had emergency treatment but don’t wait for the surgery to contact you – take action and book yourself in straight away.

At the appointment, your GP or asthma nurse will help you put steps in place to regain some control over your asthma. For example, they will check you’re using your inhalers properly, so you get the most benefits from your medicine.

3. Use a written asthma action plan

In hospital, you should be given written instructions about what medicines you need to take and when, and what to do if you notice symptoms getting worse again. Make sure you don’t leave hospital without this, as it will help you monitor your symptoms and avoid having another asthma attack.

If you didn’t go to hospital, take your written asthma action plan to your urgent asthma review so your GP or asthma nurse can update it. If you haven’t got one, download one here and fill it in with your GP or asthma nurse – they’ll make sure it’s personalised for you.

Research shows people who use written asthma action plans are four times less likely to need emergency treatment for their asthma. Having a written asthma action plan can also help reassure you and your loved ones you know what to do if your symptoms get worse again. You could store a photo of your plan on your phone so you have it with you all the time, and email it to a few friends and family members so they can access it quickly if they ever need to support you.

4. Give yourself time to recover

You may feel very tired in the days after your asthma attack. Don’t worry – the Asthma UK Helpline nurses say this is completely normal. After all, an asthma attack is a shocking experience.

Everyone’s different so it’s important to do what’s right for you. Rest as much as you need to. Don’t go back to work before you’re ready. No matter how you feel after your asthma attack, take your medicine, follow your written asthma action plan and see your doctor, so you can feel sure you’re doing the important things to look after yourself. Ask friends and family to help with some jobs such as shopping and cooking.

What will happen at the urgent review I have after my asthma attack?

You need to make a same-day appointment with your GP or asthma nurse if you weren’t hospitalised by your asthma attack. If you went to hospital, see them within two working days of being discharged.  At this urgent review, your GP or asthma nurse may:

  • consider changing your medicines, or putting you on a different dose
  • check your inhaler technique
  • complete a written asthma action plan with you, updating it with all the information you need to lower your risk of another asthma attack
  • discuss any symptoms you noticed before your asthma attack, including anything that made them worse.

You can:

  • talk about your worries
  • ask any questions about your asthma or your medicine
  • find out when you should consider going back to work
  • ask if you need a follow-up appointment in the next few weeks.

Getting well again

It’s natural to have lots of questions after an asthma attack. Our Head of Helpline, Sonia Munde, deals with some of your biggest concerns.

How can I tell if I'm going to have another asthma attack?

It's worth thinking about what was going on for you leading up to your last asthma attack. Perhaps you'd been putting up with asthma symptoms for a while? Were you exposed to any triggers more than usual? Were you stressed or anxious? Or had anything else changed in your life (you'd been getting hay fever symptoms, for example) which could trigger asthma symptoms?

Sometimes it seems like an asthma attack comes out of nowhere with no warning, but often when people look back on it they realise there were symptoms suggesting their asthma was getting worse. Using a written asthma action plan helps you keep on top of asthma symptoms and spot when these are getting worse.

But what if I do have another asthma attack?

Make sure you and anyone close to you is very clear about what to do if you have an asthma attack. You can make sure they have a copy of our asthma attack advice - print out this page and keep it by the phone or on the fridge. Or give out copies of your written asthma action plan.

I feel so tired. Will I ever get back to normal?

It's quite usual to feel tired both physically and emotionally after an asthma attack - you need to give your body some time to recover. As long as you're taking your asthma medicines, following your written asthma action plan and making sure you're getting a bit of care and support from friends and family, you'll soon be back to normal.

I'm not sleeping since I got home - is this common?

It is quite common to find you can't sleep very well after an asthma attack. Sometimes the medicines affect sleep patterns, but it's really important to keep taking the medicines you've been prescribed so that you can keep your asthma back on track. Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about the best time of day to take your medicines. It may be that you can take them earlier in the day if you find they make it hard for you to sleep.

It can sometimes take a while to get back to normal sleep patterns after a difficult event like an asthma attack because feeling scared or worried can affect sleep. It's okay to talk to your GP or asthma nurse about this.

When should I go back to work?

Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about this at the urgent review you have after your asthma attack. Everyone's ready to go back to work at different times, and it also depends what kind of work you do. It's all about how you're feeling. The most important thing is not to go back to work before you're ready.

If you have any concerns about your workplace affecting your asthma, talk to your employer and consider any triggers in the workplace that could make your asthma worse.

Coming to terms with what's happened

Are you feeling anxious, upset, frightened, angry or tearful? People often feel a range of different emotions after an asthma attack. Our Head of Helpline, Sonia Munde, shares some ideas on how you can cope.

I'm feeling frightened about what happened.

An asthma attack can be a frightening and traumatic experience. It's quite usual for people to feel frightened. It can help to get some clarity on all the advice you've been given and you can do this by calling our Helpline and speaking to one of our asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri). Knowing how to look after yourself in the best way can make you feel a bit more in control and less scared.

I'm worried that my medicines are making me anxious and emotional - can this happen?

If you've had to take large amounts of reliever medicines this can make some people feel a bit jittery and shaky. It's important to remember that the side effects of reliever medicines don't last. However, sometimes how you're feeling could also be a response to the experience you've been through. Talk to one of the asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline for emotional support, as well as advice about your asthma, by calling 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri).

I feel guilty and angry that this happened to me and that I put my family through this, especially my children.

Asthma attacks happen for all sorts of reasons, sometimes even if you've been doing everything right. However, an asthma attack can often be a wake-up call to things we could be doing differently. Rather than feeling guilty, channel your feelings into making sure you're lowering your risk of another asthma attack - by taking your medicines as prescribed, following an asthma action plan and attending regular asthma reviews.

You can check your risk by doing our asthma attack risk checker - this will help you feel clearer about what your risks are and what you can do to cut them. Involve your family and get more support from our asthma nurse specialists - they're just a call away on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) or speak to your GP or asthma nurse.

I feel very down - I'm worrying this is going to change my life.

It's understandable that you have concerns and feel down after an asthma attack. It's part of the process of coming to terms with the fact that asthma can result in life-threatening asthma attacks. The most important thing to remember is that asthma is a treatable condition for most people and you can carry on with your normal activities as long as your symptoms are well managed.

If you can't seem to stop feeling down, call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to get advice from our friendly asthma nurse specialists. It's important to see your GP if you're feeling down about things.

Is there someone I can talk to about all this?

Talk to your GP or asthma nurse if you're still worried about your asthma and the risk of having another asthma attack. You can also talk in confidence to one of our asthma nurse specialists by calling 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Monday - Friday). Don't forget to ask friends and family for support and reassurance.

Last updated May 2016