Asthma attack: what you need to do

There are more than 1,000 deaths a year from asthma in the UK, 90% of which could be prevented, according to a 2011 government report. Asthma is responsible for tens of thousands of hospital admissions, the majority of which are emergency admissions.

Control it

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

Read our information on asthma treatment in adults and asthma treatment for children.

If you're on the right asthma treatment, your chances of having an asthma attack are 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
  • you have to keep using your reliever inhaler as the effect wears off quickly
  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep

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

What to do

Current guidelines for children and adults having an asthma attack are to:

  • take your reliever inhaler (usually blue) straight away and try to breathe deeply and steadily
  • sit down and loosen any tight clothing
  • if your symptoms haven't improved after five minutes, or you're worried, call 999 or see a doctor urgently
  • continue to take a puff of your reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives

Friends and family

It’s important that friends and family know how to help in an emergency. Asthma UK provides a free Asthma Attack Card, which helps you to recognise an asthma attack, and explains what to do.

This includes helping the person having the attack to sit up comfortably, talking to them to calm them, helping them to use their reliever treatment, and calling for help if their condition doesn't improve.

Preventing 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.

After an attack

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 preventive treatment may need to be adjusted.

Page last reviewed: 13/02/2012

Next review due: 13/02/2014

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