Emergency care and severe asthma

How to feel prepared if you need emergency care for severe asthma

Health advice > Severe asthma > Managing severe asthma

Find out how to prepare for an emergency, how to get the right treatment in A&E, and what information to give doctors.

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Preparing for an emergency

It’s important to prepare for what to do in an asthma emergency and taking the time to do so can save you a lot of stress later. These four steps will help you to prepare if you need emergency treatment in A&E or hospital.

  1. Know what to do in an asthma attack – make sure you and the people around you know what to do in case of an asthma attack. And make sure you share your asthma action plan with them. We have more information on knowing the signs of an asthma attack.
  2. Keep your asthma action plan with you – Make sure you always have your asthma action plan with you. Keep a copy with you either printed or on your phone, so that a paramedic or doctor can easily find it. Make sure it’s updated regularly by your GP or specialist with the medicines you take, and any emergency treatments you need if you have an asthma attack.
  3. Carry your steroid card everywhere - If you’re taking oral steroids or a high dose of inhaled steroids, you should carry a steroid emergency card. A steroid card lets doctors and other healthcare professionals know you take steroids at a high dose. This is important during an emergency because when you’re on high doses of steroids, your body may stop producing enough of its own natural steroids – if this happens doctors will need to give you extra corticosteroids.
  4. Have an ‘emergency bag’ packed - Keep a bag packed at home with everything you might need for an emergency. Try to pack extra medicines, your emergency plan and written asthma action plan. You could also add a change of clothes, toiletries, phone charger and anything else you might need for an overnight stay in hospital. We also have more advice on what to do while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

emergencySMS

If you can’t make voice calls, you can set up emergencySMS on your phone. This service will allow you to text the emergency services. This may be useful if you’re having an asthma attack and can’t speak, or if you have difficulty hearing.

Find out how to register for emergencySMS

Getting the right treatment in A&E

Everyone with severe asthma responds differently to different treatments. You know which treatments work best for you, so it’s important that you give the doctors in A&E as much information as possible to help them treat you in the best possible way.

Call 999 in an emergency

Never delay seeking urgent help that could save your life. A 2014 report on asthma deaths in the UK found that nearly half of the people who died from asthma attacks lost their lives before getting emergency medical care.

Show your action plan to emergency and A&E staff

This explains what your symptoms are like during an asthma attack and which treatment works best for you. You can ask a GP, asthma nurse or specialist to write one for you. Always keep a couple of copies of this plan with you (or take a photo of it on your phone) so you can hand it over when you get to A&E.

Tell emergency and A&E staff you have severe asthma

Explain that you have severe asthma. You can say: “I have severe asthma and the usual emergency treatments don’t work for me. This emergency action plan tells you what I need.”

Keep your phone or a pen and paper handy

Use these to communicate with staff if your symptoms stop you from speaking.

Recovering after A&E

If you have been to A&E or had a stay in hospital, you should see your GP within two working days of being discharged. If you have not been given an appointment, ask your GP or asthma nurse to arrange one.

If you’re going to A&E often, you’re likely to need a review of your treatment to stay on top of your symptoms and reduce the number of asthma attacks you’re having.

We also have more information on what to do after an asthma attack.

To get more support and advice, talk to Asthma + Lung UK’s friendly, expert helpline by calling 0300 222 5800 or messaging via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728 (9am-5pm Monday to Friday)


Last reviewed April 2022
Next review due April 2025

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