1 in 20 people with asthma have severe asthma

Caring for someone with severe asthma

For some people with severe asthma, their carer is essential for keeping them well

There are over five million people with asthma in the UK, and about five per cent of them have severe asthma

Someone who is diagnosed with ‘severe asthma’ has the type of asthma where symptoms do not get better even when they take usual asthma medicines as prescribed and correctly, and where other causes and triggers for symptoms have been ruled out as much as possible. It’s a specific type of asthma that needs specialist assessment and very different support and treatments. 

Needing support

  • Anyone with asthma might need extra support and understanding sometimes - for example, if they’ve recently been diagnosed, they’re getting lots of symptoms or they’ve just had an asthma attack. We’ve got lots of ideas about how partners, friends, family and colleagues can support someone with asthma here.
  • Children with asthma need lots of help from the adults around them – there are lots of tips for parents and teachers in our asthma and your child section.
  • Some people with severe asthma can be very unwell at times and need a part-time or even full-time carer because they can’t do certain things for themselves. Maybe they’ve been unwell because it’s taking time to find the right medicines to get symptoms under control. Or perhaps they have another long-term condition or disability as well as severe asthma. 

Are you an asthma carer?

A carer is often someone closest to the person with severe asthma, such as a partner, parent or sibling. But you are an asthma carer and providing vital support if someone is relying on you to do some of the following things regularly:

  • collect their prescriptions
  • help them get organised when they have to take different medicines at different times of the day
  • help them keep a peak flow diary or a symptom diary
  • help them look after their nebuliser
  • drive them to appointments or asthma reviews with their specialist, GP or asthma nurse
  • go into appointments with them to listen and/or take notes
  • visit them in hospital and bring them things, such as clothes and their favourite foods
  • support them when they come out of hospital
  • help them with their day-to-day activities, such as shopping and housework
  • get their medicines quickly if their symptoms develop into an asthma attack
  • call 999 if they’re having an asthma attack
  • lend a listening ear when they’re struggling with symptoms, side effects from their medicines or feeling worried about anything. 

3 top tips when you’re caring for someone with severe asthma 

1. Find out about asthma

If you haven't done so already, make sure you know what to do in an asthma attack. You can also help the person you’re caring for avoid future emergencies by keeping a copy of their up-to-date written asthma action plan. And there are lots of tips and ideas to help get on top of severe asthma symptoms as much as possible. 

2. Get support

If the person you care for is depressed because of their severe asthma, or as a side effect of the medicines they’re taking, encourage them to get help. Their GP, asthma nurse or specialist is there to support them. And don’t forget, either of you can speak to our friendly asthma nurse specialists by calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) for reassurance and advice. 

3. Be flexible

Remember that severe asthma can be very unpredictable, plus triggers and symptoms might vary from day to day, over the course of a year, or at different times in their life. This means how often you’re needed and the ways you’re needed to support someone might be different from one day, week or month to the next. Rather than assuming someone’s needs will always stay the same, try to get in the habit of regularly asking them how they’re feeling and what they need. This way you can avoid doing:

  • any unnecessary tasks so you can save your energy, and
  • anything they’d rather do themselves so they’ll feel more confident 

Looking after yourself as a carer 

In an Asthma UK survey for carers, over half of people told us their general health has got worse since they started caring for someone with asthma. The survey shows that carers can't always have holidays, do as much exercise as they'd like, go out with friends, or just relax when they feel like it. 

Although it may seem difficult if your days are full and your to-do list is long, it is so important to take care of yourself too when you’re a carer. 

Look after yourself physically

  • Try to eat a healthy diet – cooking in bulk and stocking up on freezer meals; organising weekly internet deliveries and having nutritious snacks to nibble on can help.
  • Do some daily physical activity even if it’s just a walk to the post box or corner shop, or a 30-minute swim in the local pool.
  • See your doctor if you’re worried about your physical health – don’t wait until things gets worse.
  • Over 50 per cent of the carers who completed our survey have asthma themselves. If you have asthma, do what you can to stay as well as possible. The stress or physical impact of caring for someone can take a toll on your asthma, so let your doctor or asthma nurse know that you’re a carer.
  • Ask your GP if you need a flu vaccination to help you stay well – it’s usually given every year between the beginning of October and early November.

Look after yourself emotionally

  • Depression, stress and anxiety are all common among carers. Don’t suffer in silence – talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling. Ask your doctor about treatment options.
  • If you’re caring full-time for someone who has severe asthma, it might be easy to become isolated. Try to see, or at least stay in touch with by phone or on social media, your friends and family as often you can. And some people find it useful to connect with other carers to talk about experiences and share tips. Carers UK, Carers Trust, and Asthma UK all have online forums where people can support each other.
  • If the person you’re caring for has recently had an asthma attack and you had to call 999, don't underestimate the effect it might have on you as well. Give yourself time to recover and get extra rest afterwards.

Ask for help if you need it

  • While friends and family may want to help out, they might not know how or feel embarrassed to offer, so ask people to help with specific tasks.
  • If a friend or another family member offers help, say yes and enjoy a break. Remember that having time to yourself is an important part of looking after your own wellbeing. Make it a priority to use this time for yourself, and not just to get the chores done.
  • You may be eligible for a carer's ‘respite break’ - from an occasional trip to a regular morning a week, or a week’s respite. To find out more, call NHS Carers Direct on 0808 802 0202 or go to the NHS webpages for carers.

Support for carers

There are lots of organisations around to support and advise you on your rights and benefits, and to answer any questions you might have about being a carer: 

  • Your local council - can arrange a Carers' Assessment to work out what practical support you might need to help you care for someone with severe asthma.
  • Carers Trust - support and advice for carers including a young carers’ site for thos aged 18 or under, carers’ discussion boards and information about local support centres. The Carers Trust is formed of a merger between The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care.
  • Carers UK - help and advice for carers, information about benefits and other financial help such as fuel costs, information and advice about breaks for carers, and a members' scheme.
  • gov.uk - find out here what benefits you might be entitled to, such as Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (for those caring for children under 16) and what benefits the person you care for may be eligible for, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
  • Age UK - advice for older carers and a telephone befriending service.
  • The Children's Society - information about Young Carers Festivals and a young carers' network called Young Carers in Focus.
  • Contact a Family for families with disabled children. 

Last updated October 2016

Next review due October 2019