On this page
A&E treatment when you have severe asthma
Why A&E teams need more information to treat severe asthma
Being prepared for an emergency
Tips from people with severe asthma
Getting the right treatment at A&E
After an emergency
In an Asthma UK survey, nearly half of people with severe asthma told us they’d been to A&E with their asthma more than 10 times. But even if you go to the same hospital every time and know some of the staff, sometimes you don’t get the treatment you need right away. Being prepared for A&E and an emergency hospital stay could help you get the right treatment for you and your asthma and it doesn’t take long to put everything in place.
“A&E staff are trained to deal with all kinds of medical emergencies and follow very clear treatment guidelines when someone comes in with an asthma attack,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.
“But everyone’s asthma is different and responses to treatment vary. If you have severe asthma, you’ve probably had lots of asthma attacks and have experience of which treatment works for you. The doctors in A&E don’t know you as well as you do, so give them as much information as you can to help them find the best treatment for you as quickly as they can.”
Preparing in advance for an asthma attack will help you feel more confident and relaxed, and help others feel more confident about helping you, too.
Know what to do in an asthma attack
You always need to be prepared for an emergency. It can happen even if you haven’t been to A&E for a while and you feel your medicines are keeping your severe asthma under control.
Make sure you know what to do in an asthma attack and make sure the people around you know what to do too.
Get an emergency plan
If you don’t have one already, ask for an emergency plan at your next appointment with your GP or Asthma nurse. Ask them to write down the details of your severe asthma symptoms during an asthma attack and the treatment that works for you in an emergency. Always keep a copy with you – you could put it on your phone - and give copies to other people you think should have one. In an emergency show it to the paramedics or A&E staff.
Share your written asthma action plan
Your written action plan might be needed quickly. Carry your written asthma action plan with you but also share it with your family, close friends and colleagues. Also, in any situation where your asthma symptoms might be triggered, such as at the gym or on a plane. Keep a copy of your asthma action plan with a list of all your medicines in an obvious place so that you (or a paramedic or friend) can find it in an emergency.
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 in emergency situations because when you’re on high doses of steroids your body may stop producing enough of its own natural steroids to deal with illness or injury. In this situation, doctors will need to give you extra corticosteroids.
Have an ‘emergency bag’ ready
Keep a bag at home with everything you might need for an emergency. If possible have it near the front door so that you, or someone else, can get it quickly. In the bag have extra medicines, your emergency plan and written asthma action plan. You could also add a change of clothes, toiletries and something to read.
I keep my asthma action plan on my phone, so if I am getting symptoms I hand it over to people who know my PIN number. This is reassuring because if I have an attack, and I’m not able to talk, I can show people my action plan so they know what to do. I also have an overnight ‘asthma bag’ at home which is packed full of clothes, toiletries, books and extra medicines so if I go into hospital, I’ve got everything I need. I like knowing that I’m good to go and it helps to calm my anxiety – because being admitted to hospital can be traumatic.
I’ve created a chart on my computer to help me stay organised with my asthma medicines – it helps me to keep track of what doses I need and when to take them. It also includes lists of my allergies and my medical conditions. I’m always updating it and I keep copies in my bag in case of an emergency. If I have an asthma attack when I’m on my own and need to call an ambulance, the paramedics can find my chart easily when they’re looking for my ID. It means they have all the information they need, without me having to explain it to them between gasps.
I’ve shared my written asthma action plan with my husband, children and a few friends I do Taekwondo training with. The instructor and everyone in my Taekwondo class is aware of my asthma so they know what to do if I have an asthma attack. Knowledge is power and I feel reassured that there are always people nearby who can help if I start to get symptoms.
Dr Andy Whittamore is Asthma UK’s in-house GP. Here’s his advice on making sure your get the treatment you need during an emergency.
Never delay seeking urgent help that could save your life. You’ll get treatment more quickly, before you even get to hospital. Don’t get someone to drive you to hospital or put off calling to avoid a fuss or because you’re fed up of going to hospital. Nearly half of the people who die from asthma attacks in the UK lose their lives before they’ve received emergency medical care.
Take your emergency plan
This explains what your symptoms are like during an asthma attack and which treatment works best for you. You can ask a GP or Asthma nurse 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 them you have severe asthma
You can explain it with a phrase like: “I’m not a normal case, 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 ‘notes’ or a pen and paper handy
If you have been to A&E or had a stay in hospital you should see your GP within 2 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 often having to go to A&E 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.
Specialist Asthma Care
To get more support and advice talk to Asthma UK’s friendly, expert nurses by calling 0300 22 5800 or messaging via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728 (9am-5pm Monday to Friday).
Last updated March 2020
Next review due March 2022