Staying in hospital for your asthma

Find out more about spending time in hospital for your asthma

Health advice > Asthma care in the NHS > Emergency asthma care

Why do people with asthma need to go to hospital?

Most people are able to manage their asthma by using a written asthma action plan and taking their asthma medicines as prescribed.

But if your reliever isn’t helping and your symptoms are getting worse you might need to be treated in hospital.

Sometimes an asthma attack can be dealt with in A&E and you’re then discharged, to follow up with your GP. But sometimes you’ll be kept in so your asthma can be monitored and you have more time to recover.

If you have severe asthma or difficult to control asthma you’re more likely to need emergency care and often this will involve a hospital stay.

How to avoid ending up in hospital

“A small bit of time spent looking after your asthma every day could help avoid the stress and inconvenience of a stay in hospital,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.

  • Managing your asthma well is the best way to avoid a hospital stay 

It’s really worth sticking to a routine of taking your preventer medicines as prescribed, even if you feel well, because it lowers your risk of an asthma attack.

Use an asthma action plan to help you stay on track. And go to your asthma reviews whether you’re having symptoms or not.

  • Act quickly when you spot early warning signs of an asthma attack

You should book an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse or visit your local walk-in centre if you are experiencing any of these early warning signs that show an asthma attack could be on its way:

  • 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 (eg work, family life, exercising).
  • You need to use your reliever inhaler (usually blue) because of your asthma symptoms three times a week or more.  

What will happen in hospital?

Most people who arrive at A&E with an asthma attack are treated first in the A&E department. And it may be that once you've been treated, and monitored for at least four hours, the A&E team will be happy to discharge you and you won't need to stay in. 

If extra care is needed you may be admitted to either the High Dependency Unit or Intensive Care (ICU). And once you’re able to breathe more easily you may be transferred to a general ward to recover.

Your time on the ward is all about recovery

While you’re on the general ward in hospital you’ll continue to be given reliever medicine either with a nebuliser, or an inhaler. You may be given steroid tablets to reduce the inflammation in your lungs.

The doctors and nurses will continue to monitor your progress, gradually lowering the amount of emergency medicines you needed when you first came into hospital, and regularly checking your peak flow to see how well you’re recovering. You may also have further tests such as blood tests and chest X-rays.

If you’ve come to the ward from ICU, then an ICU nurse will usually check in on you while you stay in hospital. You may also be seen by a physiotherapist who will give you exercises to help strengthen all your breathing muscles and help you to control your breathing pattern so that you can breathe well on your own again, and avoid the risk of lung infections. 

How long will you need to stay in hospital?

Your healthcare team will be able to give you some idea of how long you can expect to stay in hospital, what treatment you need and how you will be monitored.

How long you need to stay in will depend on:

  • your symptoms
  • how well your asthma responds to medicines and treatments
  • measurements such as oxygen levels, pulse and peak flow.

It can be frustrating staying in hospital, especially when you start to feel better and just want to get home and back to normal.

However, before discharging you, your healthcare team will want to make sure you've fully recovered from your asthma attack, that your peak flow is back to normal, and that you’re well enough to go home.

The NHS website has more information on what to expect in hospital, along with advice to help make it more comfortable.

Leaving hospital after an asthma attack

Every hospital will have its own discharge policy, but there are also asthma guidelines outlining what should happen when you leave hospital after an asthma attack:

  1. You should have a full review by a member of a specialist respiratory team before you’re discharged. This is a good chance for you to reflect on how you’ve been managing your asthma and to talk about any ways you could be doing it better.
  2. You should have an updated written asthma action plan and feel confident that you can help prevent future attacks.
  3. You should be given all the medicines you need to stay well at home. And know what they’re for, how to take them, and for how long.
  4. The hospital should let your GP know you’ve been in hospital, and about the care you received. And arrange for you to have a follow-up appointment within 48 hours of leaving hospital.

“Whenever you’re discharged after an asthma attack, make sure you have a follow-up appointment with your GP or practice nurse within two working days, even if you feel well,” says Dr Andy.

“This could make the difference between making a full recovery, and ending up in hospital again with another attack. Make sure you get help sooner if your asthma is getting worse or if you're worried.” 

Looking after yourself once you're back home

Having to go to hospital for your asthma can be a wake-up call, and a reminder to check how well you’re managing your asthma. 

Make sure you get the follow up support you need from your GP or asthma nurse. And find out what you can do to avoid future asthma attacks

Getting emotional support

After you've had an asthma attack, you may need a bit of extra emotional support - being treated in hospital for your asthma can be an upsetting and frightening experience.

Lots of people feel physically and emotionally tired after an asthma attack so it’s important to get as much rest as you can

It can help to talk about what happened, and share your experiences with friends or on our online forums.

You can also call one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800 (Mon - Fri; 9am- 5pm) or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728 for support and advice on how to avoid it happening in future.

Last updated November 2019

Next review due November 2022

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