What to Do When You're Having an Asthma Attack

If you suddenly found yourself in the middle of a full-blown asthma attack, would you know what to do? The answer to that question could be the difference between life and death.

Make an Asthma Action Plan

If you've been diagnosed with asthma, you've probably worked with your doctor to develop an asthma action plan that provides important steps to help you prevent and treat this chronic respiratory condition. Most asthma action plans also include a list of warning signs that can alert you when you're heading into an attack so you can respond right away. This plan can be crucial in an emergency because it spells out exactly what to do and when.

Signs of an Asthma Attack

Some of the common signs of an asthma attack include coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and extreme tiredness. If you use a peak flow monitor to follow changes in your breathing, you may also find that your lung capacity drops by about 50 percent.

The First Line of Treatment

  • As soon as you notice any asthma attack symptoms, respond immediately. Some steps your doctor may recommend for treating a mild asthma attack include: Using your fast-acting relief inhaler to try to open up the tight airway muscles to let air flow freely again.
  • Waiting for a minute and see if you feel any better.
  • Repeating the inhaler dosage if you still feel symptoms.
  • Calling your doctor right away if the discomfort persists.

Emergency Treatment

While many asthma attacks can be effectively managed at home without ill effects, if you're prone to life-threatening asthma attacks or find yourself suddenly experiencing more severe symptoms, it's crucial to call 911 to summon emergency medical care right away.

Signs of a Serious Asthma Attack

Some warning signs that can signal a life-threatening asthma attack include:

  • A peak flow reading that continues to drop even after using your fast-acting relief medication.
  • Blue fingernails or lips.
  • Trouble talking.
  • Difficulty taking a breath.
  • Pulling in your neck, chest, or ribs when you try to breathe.
  • Nostrils flaring with each breath.

Be Prepared

Remember that if left untreated, an asthma attack can be fatal. By working closely with your doctor and taking the proper precautions to prevent and treat the symptoms, you should be able to effectively manage your condition and keep it from getting out of hand.




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"Asthma: Learning to Control Your Symptoms." American Academy of Family Physicians. Familydoctor.org, Jan. 2011. Web. 4 April 2011.

"What to do in an Asthma Attack. Winning with Asthma." Steps to a Healthy Minnesota, n.d. Web. 30 March 2011.