4 Key Steps to Treating Asthma Attacks

If you're prone to having asthma attacks, a treatment plan is critical. Follow these guidelines and plan to breathe easier.

Medically reviewed in August 2021

You can still have an asthma attack even if you monitor your asthma and take your medications. Get well-acquainted with the steps you should take if your asthma flares. Here are a few to add to your asthma attack treatment plan:

  • Sit up. You will find it easier to breathe sitting up than lying down.
  • Use your inhaler. It's filled with the proper dose of medication for you. The medication should help relax your airways and allow you to start breathing normally. Take between two to four puffs on your inhaler and wait about 5 minutes before taking another. If you don't start to breathe more normally within a few minutes, head for the emergency room or urgent care center.
  • Stay calm. It's hard not to feel panicky when you're wheezing and having difficulty catching your breath, but try to stay calm because stress can exacerbate the symptoms of an asthma attack.
  • Follow your action plan. You and your doctor should have worked out ahead of time an action plan that outlines not only your treatment program but also what you should do during an asthma attack. Refer to your plan and do exactly what your doctor has instructed. (If you don't have an asthma attack treatment plan, make an appointment with your doctor to develop one.)

When to seek emergency care
If you don't feel better within a few minutes of using your rescue inhaler and following your action plan guidelines for asthma attacks, it's time to call 911 or get to an emergency room. Here are some symptoms of an asthma attack that warrant immediate emergency medical attention.

  • You're not responding to your quick-relief medications.
  • Your breathing is fast and hard.
  • Your peak flow is less than 50 percent of your personal best.
  • Your pulse is rapid.
  • Your heart is beating very fast.
  • You're having trouble walking or talking.
  • Your lips or fingernails look bluish or grayish.
  • Your nostrils are wide open when you suck in air.
  • Your skin around your ribs and neck caves in when you breathe in.

If you have any of these symptoms, get to an emergency room or urgent care facility quickly. Once you get there, you will be given oxygen as well as medications to reduce the swelling in your bronchial tubes and get you breathing more easily again.

Preventing future asthma attacks
After your attack has been treated and your breathing has returned to normal, be sure to schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to discuss your asthma. He or she can help you figure out how your lungs are doing and why you had an attack. Together, you can decide if:

  • You need to take additional steps to avoid your triggers.
  • There are new triggers you need to avoid.
  • Adjustments should be made to your medication program and/or your asthma attack treatment plan.

Continue the conversation with your doctor after your initial follow-up appointment. Ideally, you should check in with your doctor regularly (anywhere from once a month to twice a year, depending on your age and symptoms). Most asthma attacks don't come on suddenly. Often, there are signs and you have time to take action. Keep in constant contact with your doctor so you know what to do.

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