When to go to A&E

Find out when to seek emergency asthma care and when to see your GP or asthma nurse

When to go to A&E

Am I having an asthma attack?

What to do in an asthma attack

Going to A&E could save your life

When to see your GP or asthma nurse

Other times you should speak to your GP or asthma nurse

When to go to A&E

If you’re having an asthma attack and your symptoms don’t improve after 10 puffs of your blue inhaler, or you feel worse at any point, it’s time to go to A&E – please call an ambulance now.

  • If you’ve been diagnosed with severe asthma, read our advice on getting the treatment you need quickly when you go to A&E. 

Am I 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

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. Remember to take your written asthma action plan with you to A&E

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  MART regime. If you are on a MART regime, speak to your GP or asthma nurse to get the right asthma attack advice for you.

Going to A&E could save your life

Tragically, three people in the UK die from an asthma attack every day. Nearly half of these people die before they get emergency medical care.

So if you're having an asthma attack, getting treatment quickly could save your life. Lots of people worry about bothering the NHS, but if you call an ambulance the paramedics can treat you on the way to hospital, saving vital seconds.

Asthma UK specialist nurse Kathy says: "We know that two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable with good, basic care. An important part of asthma care and effective management of symptoms is getting the right help when you need it. You're not wasting anyone's time. You're not a nuisance or bothering anyone. If you are having an asthma attack and your reliever inhaler isn’t working after 10 puffs, or if you feel worse at any time, you need to call an ambulance straight away."

When to see your GP or asthma nurse 

 Make an urgent appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse if:

  • 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.

These are warning signs that you may be at risk of an asthma attack, so you need to discuss your asthma medicines and check you're taking them in the correct way.

Getting help now means you can cut your risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Outside of normal surgery hours you can still phone your GP, but you will usually be directed to an out-of-hours service. You can also phone 111 for advice at any time.

If your GP or nurse has given you a specific phone number to call when you are concerned about your asthma, continue to use that number.

Other times you should speak to your GP or asthma nurse 

Make sure you see or speak to your GP or asthma nurse if:

Always remember to take your written asthma action plan with you. If you haven't got one, fill one out with your GP or asthma nurse at your next appointment. Download an action plan.

We’ve got lots of advice on how to manage your asthma well and reduce your risk of an asthma attack.

If you're not sure whether your asthma symptoms are getting worse, you can call one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists for advice on 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm; Monday-Friday). You can also chat to them on WhatsApp on 07378 606728.

Last updated September 2019

Next update due September 2022