How to Manage an Asthma Flare or Attack
It is important to know your asthma symptoms and what causes your asthma to worsen (triggers). Avoiding your triggers is the best way to avoid an asthma attack. Some triggers, like catching a cold, cannot be avoided while others, like being near tobacco smoke, can be. Taking a daily asthma controller medicine, if prescribed, helps prevent asthma attacks by keeping swelling under control inside your airways.
The most common asthma symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
If these symptoms are present, albuterol (or your prescribed quick-relief medicine) should be taken. Watch your response closely. If symptoms persist after 15-20 minutes, your prescribed quick-relief medicine should be repeated.
If the symptoms listed below are present after taking your quick-relief medicine, you should contact your doctor or health care provider.
- Asthma symptoms remain or get worse.
- Peak flow number (if checked) does not improve or gets worse.
- Trouble walking or talking due to shortness of breath or wheezing.
Go to the Emergency Room or call 911 if:
- Breathing is very difficult including:
- Pulling in of the chest and/or neck muscles.
- Hunching over to breathe.
- Struggling to get air in or out.
- Your quick-relief medicine is not helping your symptoms.
- Your lips or finger nails are looking blue in color.
Never drive yourself to the emergency room if you are having asthma symptoms. Call a family member, friend, or neighbor to help. Or, call 911.
Remain calm if your or your child’s asthma symptoms are getting worse. “Losing your cool” or showing anxiety can make asthma symptoms worse.
Please talk to your health care provider, doctor or nurse. Ask for a written asthma action plan which will help you manage asthma flares or attacks.
- Know your warning signs and peak flow zones so you can begin treatment early.
- Take the correct amount of medicine at the times the doctor has stated. If the asthma control plan includes an increased dosage or a second medicine to be used during flares or attacks, take it as prescribed.
- Always call your doctor if you need to take more medicine than the doctor ordered.
- Remove yourself or your child from the trigger if you know what it is. Treatment does not work as well if the patient stays around the trigger.
- Stay calm and relaxed. Family members must stay calm and relaxed too.
- Review the list below for signs to seek emergency medical care for asthma. They include:
- Your wheeze, cough, or shortness of breath gets worse, even after the medicine has been given and has had time to work. Most inhaled bronchodilator medicines produce an effect within 5 to 10 minutes. Discuss the time your medicines take to work with your doctor.
- Your peak flow number goes down or does not improve after treatment with bronchodilators. Or if your peak flow number drops to 50 percent or less of personal best. Discuss this peak flow level with your doctor.
- Your breathing gets difficult. Signs of this are:
- Your chest and neck are pulled or sucked in with each breath.
- You are hunching over.
- You are struggling to breathe.
- You have trouble walking or talking.
- You stop playing or working and cannot start again.
- Go to the Emergency Room if your lips or fingernails are gray or blue.
- Keep your important information for seeking emergency care handy.
- Call a family member, friend, or neighbor to help you if needed.
- Right away, call a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital for help if needed.
- drink a lot of water. Just drink normal amounts.
- breathe warm moist air from a shower.
- rebreathe into a paper bag held over the nose.
- use over-the-counter cold remedies without first calling the doctor.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 06/25/2012
Copyright © 06/25/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5125
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