Asthma attack: what you need to do

Asthma attacks kill three people each day. The UK has one of the highest asthma death rates in Europe. Yet many of these deaths could be avoided.

Controlling your asthma

Visit your doctor at least once a year for a check-up and to discuss asthma treatment options.


Read our information on asthma treatment

Every 10 seconds someone in the UK has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. You can find out what your risk of an asthma attack is by using the Asthma UK asthma attack risk checker.

If you're on the right asthma treatment, your chance of having an asthma attack is greatly reduced. Visit your doctor at least once a year for a check-up and to discuss asthma treatment options.

Is it an asthma attack?

You can tell you're having an asthma attack if:

  • your reliever inhaler isn't helping
  • your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
  • you're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
  • your breathing may get faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly
  • children may complain of a tummy ache 

Often, using your reliever inhaler will be enough to relieve your symptoms when you start having an attack. But sometimes symptoms are more severe and urgent action is needed.

If you go to A&E or are admitted to hospital, take the details of all of your medicines with you if possible.

What to do if you're having an asthma attack

Asthma UK's guidelines for children and adults having an asthma attack are to:

1. Take one to two puffs of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) immediately.

2. Sit down and try to take slow, steady breaths.

3. If you do not start to feel better, take two puffs of your reliever inhaler (one puff at a time) every two minutes. You can take up to 10 puffs.

4. If you don't feel better after taking your inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999.

5. If an ambulance doesn't arrive within 10 minutes and you are still feeling unwell, repeat step 3.

If your symptoms improve and you don't need to call 999, you still need to see a GP or asthma nurse within 24 hours.

After an asthma attack

Asthma UK advises that you should make an appointment with your doctor or asthma nurse within 48 hours of your attack.

You can then discuss any changes that may need to be made to manage your condition safely. For example, the dose of your preventative treatment may need to be adjusted.

If you've had an attack or you're needing to use your reliever inhaler regularly, arrange to see your doctor or nurse – the dose of your preventative treatment may need to be adjusted.

Preventing asthma attacks

Most people who have asthma attacks will have warning signs for a few days before the attack.

These include having to use your blue reliever inhaler more often, changes in your peak flow meter readings, and increased symptoms, such as waking up in the night.

Don't ignore these warning signs as they indicate that your asthma control is poor and you risk having a severe attack.

Follow your personal asthma action plan. If your symptoms continue to get worse, make an urgent appointment to see your doctor or asthma nurse.

Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency.

Friends and relatives of people with asthma

It's important that friends and family know how to help in an emergency.

It can be helpful to make copies of your personal asthma action plan and share it with others who may need to know what to do when you have an attack.

You can download a blank personal action plan (PDF, 681kb) from the Asthma UK website. 

Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/10/2016


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 231 ratings

All ratings

111  ratings
53  ratings
11  ratings
10  ratings
46  ratings

Add your rating

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Medicines use review (MUR) service

Find out how this confidential service will help people with a long-term illness to manage their medicines in the best way, including addressing any problems they may experience.

Media last reviewed: 18/06/2015

Next review due: 18/06/2017

About A&E departments

Find out when it is appropriate to go to A&E and what other services offer urgent care