When to go to A&E

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

If you're having asthma symptoms, it can be difficult to know whether you need to make an appointment to see your GP or whether it's time to dial 999 for an ambulance. The information below can help you decide.

If you’ve been diagnosed with severe asthma, we have some top tips here for getting the treatment you need quickly when you go to A&E.

Or if you're with a child who's having asthma symptoms, click here to help you decide when to take a child to A&E.

It is important for you to recognise when you're having an asthma attack because if you are, you need to get help immediately.

An asthma attack is an emergency. Getting treatment quickly could save your life.

Tragically, three people in the UK die from an asthma attack every day. Nearly half of people (45%) die before emergency medical care can be provided. If you are having an asthma attack, you need to call an ambulance to get to A&E as soon as possible for the urgent treatment you need.

"We know that two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable with good, basic care" says expert asthma nurse Kathy. "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, you need to call an ambulance straight away."

Do I need my GP or A&E?

If your asthma symptoms are getting worse, look at the asthma attack section of your written asthma action plan. It will have instructions on how to recognise an asthma attack and what to do in an emergency. 

You need to call an ambulance if...

  • Your reliever isn't helping
  • Your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
  • You're too breathless or it's difficult to speak, eat or sleep
  • You're feeling exhausted

When you go to A&E, remember to take your written asthma action plan with you.

You need to speak to your GP or asthma nurse if...

  • You're having asthma symptoms, and/or...
  • You're using your reliever inhaler more than usual

Both of 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. It's important not to ignore asthma symptoms that are getting worse because research shows that symptoms often rapidly increase two or three days before an asthma attack. 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.

During out-of-hours periods you can also call NHS 111.

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.

You can also speak to your GP or asthma nurse if...

  • It's time to book your annual asthma review
  • You're worried about anything - side effects of your medicines, for example
  • You need health advice - information about giving up smoking, for example
  • You've just come out of hospital after an asthma attack

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.

There are lots of things you can do to manage your asthma well and reduce your risk of an asthma attack that needs emergency hospital treatment.

If you're not sure whether your asthma symptoms are getting worse, you can run through our checklist here or call one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists for advice on 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday).


Last updated October 2016

Next review due October 2019