Asthma emergency

  • Despite controlling your asthma, following your asthma action plan, and taking your medications regularly, you may still experience an asthma flare-up and suffer an asthma attack.

    How do I know if I’m having an attack?

    You are having an asthma attack if your asthma symptoms get worse but do not go away when you use your blue reliever. An asthma attack may develop very rapidly over a few minutes, or it may take a few hours or even days to happen. An asthma attack may be mild, moderate or severe.

    Symptoms of a mild asthma attack:

    • cough, wheeze
    • some shortness of breath
    • still able to speak in full sentences between breaths

    Symptoms of a moderate asthma attack:

    • continual cough, moderate to loud wheeze
    • obvious difficulty breathing
    • only able to speak in short phrases between breaths

    Symptoms of a severe asthma attack:

    • severe difficulties breathing
    • speak no more than a few words at a time
    • wheeze is often quiet
    • sucking in of the throat and rib muscles
    • pale and sweaty
    • may have blue lips
    • very distressed and anxious

    If you or someone else is having a severe attack, you should call an ambulance (dial 000) immediately.

    As well as experiencing some of the above symptoms, young children may appear restless, unable to settle and may have problems eating or drinking. They may also have severe coughing or vomiting.

    What do I do?

    There is a standard asthma first aid procedure that is safe for both adults and children to follow, and it’s important that you and others around you know how to recognise an asthma attack, and know what to do to help. Stay calm, and start first aid as quickly as possible.

    If you are using Symbicort as a reliever and preventer, the first aid procedure is different, and you need to use the Symbicort SMART first aid guidelines. Start first aid as quickly as possible. The sooner treatment with reliever medication starts, the better the outcome. 

    If the person having the attack doesn’t improve, or you are very worried, you should call an ambulance, and continue to use asthma first aid while you are waiting for it to arrive. If they get better after first aid treatment, you should stay with them and monitor them for some time to make sure they don’t get worse again.

    What happens if I have to go into hospital?

    Your treatment in hospital will depend on your asthma and your symptoms. Some people are only in hospital for a few hours, and others have to stay for a few days. See our asthma in hospital section for more information.

    After an asthma attack

    Even if an asthma attack has been successfully treated without needing to call an ambulance, you should be reviewed by a doctor as soon as possible. It is important to understand why the asthma attack occurred and whether anything can be done to prevent it happening again in the future.

    Need more information?

    Contact our Information Line to talk to a trained health professional. Call 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462) or use our online form.

Please let us know which state you are in so we can provide you with the most relevant information: