Staying in hospital for your asthma

If you need to stay in hospital for your asthma find out more about how you’ll be cared for, and ways to cope if you need to stay in for a while

If you have severe or difficult to control asthma you’re more likely to need emergency care and often this will involve a hospital stay. However, even people with mild and moderate asthma sometimes need to stay in hospital for a while. In fact 185 people a day are admitted to hospital for their asthma.

On this page:

Why do people with asthma need to go to hospital?

The vast majority of 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.

How to reduce your chances of ending up in hospital

Managing your asthma well is the best way to avoid the need for a hospital stay. Consider that taking your medication as prescribed is a small price to pay compared with the stress and inconvenience of a stay in hospital.

While avoiding an asthma attack is not always possible, there are usually signs and symptoms leading up to it, which gives a ‘window of opportunity’ to do something about your symptoms before they develop. This is why it’s so important to follow a written asthma action plan so you can lower your risk of ending up in hospital with your asthma.  

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 then admitted to either the High Dependency Unit or Intensive Care if more critical care is needed. Once you’re able to breathe more easily you may be transferred to a general ward to recover.

You’ll need to stay in hospital until your healthcare team is confident that it’s safe for you to go home. This will depend on your symptoms, how well you’ve responded to medicines and treatments, and measurements such as oxygen levels, pulse and peak flow.

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.

Time to recover

Your time on the ward is all about recovery. The doctors and nurses on the ward will continue to monitor your progress, gradually weaning you off the 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 the intensive care unit (ICU), then an ICU nurse will usually check in on you while you remain in hospital. You might also be seen by a physiotherapist who will give you exercises to help strengthen all your breathing muscles so you can breathe well on your own again, and avoid the risk of lung infections. 

Tips for an easier stay in hospital

Here are a few things you can do to make a hospital stay less stressful:

  • Close friends and family are often keen to know how they can help. Write them a list of clothes and other essentials you need from home.
  • Ask someone to bring in an eye mask to help you get a good night’s sleep, and headphones if you want to listen to music.
  • Make sure you have magazines, your tablet or a book to help you pass the time.
  • It can help to ask about visiting hours so you can let family and friends know when they can call in. Let visitors know if there are rules about what they can bring in – some wards say no to flowers, for example.
  • If you’re up to it, you could arrange to meet in the hospital café to get some exercise.
  • If you have a phone by your bed, you can give this number to friends and family but make sure they know how much it costs. Always check the hospital’s rule on mobile phones before using yours on the ward.

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

How long will you stay in hospital?

How long you have to stay will depend on how well your asthma responds to treatment. 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.

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, your healthcare team will want to ensure you have fully recovered from your asthma attack, that your peak flow is back to normal, and that you’re well enough to go home.

Before you’re discharged

Every hospital will have its own discharge policy, but there are established standards for asthma care both in the hospital and after discharge.

  • Everyone admitted to hospital following an asthma attack should have a full review by a member of a specialist respiratory team before they are 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. You should leave hospital knowing that your written asthma action plan is up to date, and feel confident that you can help prevent future attacks.
  • The hospital staff should make sure you have the medicines you need to follow your asthma action plan, and that you know how to use your inhalers properly.
  • The hospital will write to your GP letting them know about the care you've received and highlighting any medicines you've been prescribed. A follow-up appointment with your GP should also be made for within two working days after you’ve left hospital.
  • You will be given a discharge letter when you leave (or it may be sent to your home address). Don’t forget to ask for any other paperwork you need, such as a doctor’s certificate for work or insurance purposes.
  • If a friend or family member can’t take you home, ask the hospital to arrange transport for you so that you are ready to leave once discharged.

“Whenever you’re discharged make sure you have a follow up appointment with your GP or practice nurse within two working days. You should also make sure you understand what medicines you need to take and how to take them, and what to do if your asthma isn’t improving.” Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in house GP

After you leave hospital

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. One in six people who are admitted to hospital for an asthma attack need to return to hospital within just two weeks. You can cut this risk by:

  • attending all your follow-up appointments
  • talking openly and honestly to your GP or asthma nurse about how you manage your asthma and why you needed to stay in hospital
  • going through your written asthma action plan with your GP or asthma nurse and making sure it is up to date
  • asking questions so you can feel confident that you understand what you need to do to stay well with your asthma
  • keeping a peak flow diary and a symptom calendar to monitor your recovery.

Getting emotional support

It’s also a time when you might need a bit of extra emotional support: being treated in hospital for your asthma can be an upsetting and frightening experience. 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) for support and advice on how to avoid it happening in future.

Last updated October 2016

Next review due October 2019