Coming to terms with a diagnosis of severe asthma

It can feel like there's lots to take in when you're diagnosed with severe asthma

People tell us they feel all sorts of things when they’re first diagnosed with severe asthma.

  • Some feel relieved that they know what’s going on and can now work with their specialist to find the best medicines and help they need.
  • Others have some fear about how severe asthma will affect their day-to-day life.
  • It’s also possible to have mixed feelings – for example, some anxiety alongside a positive sense of moving forward now there’s a clear plan of action.

“It was a really drawn-out process being diagnosed with severe asthma, but it was such a relief to finally know what was wrong. The doctors just couldn’t get on top of it. I’d be rushed to A&E and need emergency medicines, and then I’d be sent home – only to return again in a matter of weeks.” – Celena Dell, 34 

“I was diagnosed with asthma at the age of three, but it wasn’t until I had a particularly bad asthma attack in 2010 that I got the diagnosis of severe asthma. When I first came out of hospital, I worried about whether I’d be able to go back to work, and whether I’d have another asthma attack.” – Peter Naylor, 52 

“When I was diagnosed with severe asthma, I felt justified, and that someone was finally listening to me.” – Abi Bettle, 28 

“Being diagnosed with severe asthma when I was 41 was very hard and stressful. Asthma has always been in my life but, on the whole, well managed. I suddenly felt very out of control.” – Jo Simm, 44  

“I was diagnosed with severe asthma in 2011, aged 31, after a second bout of pneumonia. After lots of different tests and checks, I was diagnosed with severe asthma. It was a shock but also a relief because it explained the many chest infections I’ve suffered from and the fact that I used to wheeze when I played sport as a child. I thought it was because I was unfit. Now I know I probably had undiagnosed asthma.” – Joanne Beecroft, 36

Get the support you need 

If you’re feeling down about your diagnosis, you might find it comforting to know that many people with severe asthma felt the same when they were first diagnosed. Many of them have also told us they’ve become more confident over time.

A lot of people say the diagnosis has been helpful because it means they’re in a better position to get the support and treatment they need. 

If you would find it helpful to talk to somebody about how you’re feeling so they can reassure you, there are some great places to go:

  • Your GP, asthma nurse and asthma specialist are all there to support you.
  • Our friendly Helpline nurses are available on weekdays between 9am and 5pm. You can call them to talk on 0300 222 5800 or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.
  • You can chat to other people with severe asthma on our forum
  • Lots of people with asthma find social media useful so have a look at our Facebook and Twitter pages.             

You can also find lots of useful tips and ideas about getting emotional support

Learn to spot any negative thoughts 

A good way to help you feel less stressed and more confident about dealing with things is to spot any negative thoughts and try to replace them with more positive ones. You might find this hard to do at first but it gets easier over time. You might be surprised at just how much difference it can make. For example: 

IF YOU THINK: “There’s too much information about severe asthma for me to take in”

TRY THIS: “I don’t need to know everything about severe asthma, I only need to understand what I need right now.”

Getting to know your own symptoms and triggers, and working with your specialist to find the right treatment, is what’s important. This can help you feel more in control of this new diagnosis.  

IF YOU THINK: “I’m scared I will have lots of asthma attacks”

TRY THIS: “I will feel confident and safe if I know what to do if my asthma symptoms are getting worse or if I’m having an asthma attack – and my action plan tells me all those things.”

Taking your asthma medicines as prescribed every day will cut your risk of an asthma attack, but it’s still important that:

  1. Your reliever inhaler (usually blue) is always in easy reach
  2. You feel confident about what to do if your symptoms are getting worse – you can find the information on your asthma action plan (make sure it’s updated at each appointment if your treatment changes)
  3. Your family, friends and colleagues feel confident about spotting the symptoms of an asthma attack early and knowing what to do quickly – give them a paper copy or send them a photo of your asthma action plan 
  4. You get the help you need in A&E – you can find some good ideas and tips here

IF YOU THINK: “It annoys me that other people don’t understand what severe asthma is like”

TRY THIS: “I’m going to help other people understand what it’s like to have severe asthma.”

It’s true that many people don’t fully understand what it’s like to have asthma, let alone severe asthma. But you can help others understand by talking openly about the condition and your experiences. There are lots of ideas about how to explain severe asthma here.  

IF YOU THINK: “Severe asthma will hold me back”

TRY THIS: “My team of health professionals is working with me to find the treatments that will work as well as possible.”

It’s easy at first to focus on all the things you can’t do at the moment, or you think you won’t be able to do in the future. But working with your specialist will give you the best chance of finding the best combination of medicines for you so that you can continue workingexercising and doing the things you love. You might find it inspiring to read how other people have found ways to cope with the challenges of severe asthma.


Last updated March 2019

Next review due March 2022