Symptoms of an asthma attack
Signs that you may be having an asthma attack include:
- your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheezing or tight chest)
- your reliever inhaler (usually blue) is not helping
- you're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
- your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you cannot catch your breath
- your peak flow score is lower than normal
- children may also complain of a tummy or chest ache
The symptoms will not necessarily occur suddenly. In fact, they often come on slowly over a few hours or days.
What to do if you have an asthma attack
If you think you're having an asthma attack, you should:
- Sit upright (do not lie down) and try to take slow, steady breaths. Try to remain calm, as panicking will make things worse.
- Take 1 puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
- Call 999 for an ambulance if you do not have your inhaler with you, you feel worse despite using your inhaler, you do not feel better after taking 10 puffs or you're worried at any point.
- If the ambulance has not arrived within 15 minutes, repeat step 2.
Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency.
Try to take the details of your medicines (or your personal asthma action plan) with you to hospital if possible.
If your symptoms improve and you do not need to call 999, get an urgent same-day appointment to see a GP or asthma nurse.
This advice is not for people on SMART or MART treatment. If this applies to you, ask a GP or asthma nurse what to do if you have an asthma attack.
After an asthma attack
You should see a GP or asthma nurse within 48 hours of leaving hospital, or ideally on the same day if you did not need hospital treatment.
About 1 in 6 people treated in hospital for an asthma attack need hospital care again within 2 weeks, so it's important to discuss how you can reduce your risk of future attacks.
Talk to a doctor or nurse about any changes that may need to be made to manage your condition safely.
For example, the dose of your treatment may need to be adjusted or you may need to be shown how to use your inhaler correctly.
Preventing asthma attacks
The following steps can help you reduce your risk of having an asthma attack:
- follow your personal asthma action plan and take all of your medicines as prescribed
- have regular asthma reviews with a GP or asthma nurse – these should be done at least once a year
- check with a GP or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly
- avoid things that trigger your symptoms whenever possible
Do not ignore your symptoms if they're getting worse or you need to use your reliever inhaler more often than usual.
Follow your action plan and make an urgent appointment to see a GP or asthma nurse if your symptoms continue to get worse.
Advice for friends and family
It's important that your friends and family know how to help in an emergency.
It can be useful 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 photocopy your existing plan, or you could download a blank personal asthma action plan (PDF, 681kb) from Asthma UK and fill it in for anyone who might need a copy.
Alternatively, you could take a photo of your action plan on your phone, so you can show or send it to others easily.