When to call 999 or 111

Know where, and when, to get help if your asthma gets worse

Health advice > Managing your asthma 

Find out when you need to call 999, ask for help from the NHS 111 service, or see your GP urgently.

When to call 999

Call 999 for an ambulance if:

you’re having an asthma attack and your symptoms don’t improve after ten puffs of your reliever inhaler, or if you feel worse at any point.

An asthma attack is a medical emergency and it’s vital to treat it quickly. Because asthma is a high priority, you may be sent a rapid response paramedic ahead of the ambulance. This means you can start to be treated sooner.

Don't ask for a lift or call a taxi. Call 999 for an ambulance so the paramedics can start treating you immediately and take you to the most appropriate A&E.

Find out What happens in A&E 

When to call 111

Call 111 if:

  • your GP surgery is closed 
  • your symptoms are getting in the way of your everyday activities
  • your symptoms are waking you up at night
  • you’re using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week.

The NHS 111 service is for medical problems that are urgent, but not life-threatening, and you’re not sure what to do when your GP surgery is closed. The NHS 111 service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

When you call 111, be ready to answer questions about your symptoms. This is so the caller can give you the right advice about what to do, and where to go for further help.

They might suggest you go to A&E, a walk-in centre, or get an urgent same day appointment at your GP surgery/out of hours centre.

If you're using the NHS 111 website, remember that it isn't for children under 5. 

When to see your GP or asthma nurse

Ask for an urgent appointment with 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 (work, family life, exercising)
  • you're having symptoms, and using your reliever inhaler, three or more times a week.

These are all warning signs that you may be at risk of an asthma attack. Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about your asthma medicines. They can check you're taking them in the correct way.

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

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

But if you're finding it hard to breathe, or your reliever inhaler isn’t helping, call 999.

Book a routine appointment with your GP or asthma nurse if:

  • you're due an annual asthma review
  • you’re worried about the side effects of your medicines, or medicines not working as well
  • you need health advice - for example, information about giving up smoking
  • you've just come out of hospital after an asthma attack – book an appointment within two days.

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. You can find out more about asthma action plans and download one here.

If you want to talk to someone about the best way to manage your asthma symptoms, you can call our Helpline and talk to one of our respiratory nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Monday - Friday). You can also chat to them on WhatsApp on 07378 606728.


Last updated September 2020

Next review due September 2023



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