What to do in an asthma emergency

How to recognise a serious asthma attack

An asthma attack can take anything from a few minutes to a few days to develop. During an asthma attack coughing, wheezing or breathlessness can quickly worsen.

Signs of an acute asthma attack requiring immediate action

  • Severe shortness of breath (struggling to breathe)
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • Wheezing sound when breathing in and out (if wheezing stops with no improvement in symptoms it is an extreme EMERGENCY)
  • Chest tightness (feels as if someone is sitting on chest)
  • Unable to speak more than one or two words per breath
  • Distressed or feeling frightened
  • Little or no improvement after using reliever medication (Bricanyl, Ventolin, Respigen or Salair)
  • Areas at base of throat and between ribs ‘sucking in’ and out
  • Blueness around the lips
  • Hunching over
Note: Not all of the above symptoms may be present.

During an asthma attack, young children may appear restless, unable to settle and may have problems eating due to shortness of breath. They may also have severe coughing and vomiting.  See here  for more information about asthma emergencies for children aged five years and under.