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Warning signs of an asthma emergency

More than 1,000 people die from asthma in the UK each year, and it is estimated that 90% of these could have been prevented.

Knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack and knowing when to call 999 are as important as keeping asthma symptoms well managed with medication and following other recommendations from doctors and asthma nurses.

What to do in an asthma emergency should be part of a personal asthma plan.

Asthma attack warning signs

Most people with asthma get some warning signs a few days before the attack. This might include changes in peak flow meter reading or having to use a blue reliever inhaler more often.

Everyone’s symptoms and triggers are different. Always pay attention to asthma symptoms. Noticing a pattern may help prevent future attacks.

Knowing your personal signs of asthma allows you to take action early, reducing the severity of your asthma attacks - or preventing asthma attacks altogether.

Keeping a rescue inhaler to hand is important.

Never be afraid of calling for help in an emergency or calling 999 for an ambulance.

Friends and family should also know how to help in an emergency. Asthma UK can provides free Asthma Attack Cards to help explain how to recognise an asthma attack and what to do about it.

Parents of children with asthma should keep a close eye on warning signs and triggers, and schools and clubs should be made aware of the condition and be briefed on what to do in the event of an attack.

Sudden asthma symptoms

In some cases asthma symptoms may develop suddenly.

The most common symptoms of asthma or an asthma attack include:

  • Coughing, especially at night or during exercise
  • Wheezing or losing your breath easily
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Fatigue and weakness, especially during exercise
  • Trouble sleeping

What should you do if you have any of these asthma warning signs?

Ideally, you, your asthma nurse and your GP should already have worked out a personal asthma plan. This is a simple set of steps to follow when you have asthma symptoms. Your asthma action plan may include measuring your breathing capacity with a device called a peak flow meter, and taking a dose of your reliever inhaler (usually blue). Your asthma nurse or doctor may also want you to change the dose of your daily prevention therapy to help control your asthma.

Warning signs of an asthma emergency

Some warning signs of asthma are more serious than others. They include:

  • Symptoms that keep getting worse, even with treatment
  • Difficulty catching your breath or talking
  • Flaring of your nostrils as you breathe
  • Sucking in your chest or stomach with each breath
  • Difficulty walking
  • A bluish or greyish tinge to your lips or fingernails
  • Racing pulse
  • Feeling agitated and restless

If you have any of these asthma symptoms, get emergency medical help right away.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 30, 2013

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