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Asthma attacks

Asthma can sometimes get worse for a short time. This is called an asthma attack. It can happen quickly or over a few days.

Your chance of having an asthma attack is greatly reduced if you're on the right asthma treatment.

To reduce the risk of having an asthma attack:

  • take your controller or MART inhaler every day
  • always keep your reliever inhaler with you in case you need it

Visit your GP twice a year for a check-up and to discuss your treatment. They may suggest joining the chronic disease management programme if you have a medical card or GP visit card.

Information:

This advice is for adults with asthma. If your child has asthma, read our guide on asthma in babies and children.

Symptoms of an asthma attack

You may be having an asthma attack if your:

  • symptoms are getting worse – for example, a cough, shortness of breath, wheezing or a tight chest
  • reliever inhaler does not help
  • breathing gets faster and it feels like you cannot catch your breath
  • peak flow score is lower than usual

Symptoms may not always appear suddenly. They often come on slowly over a few hours or days.

What to do if you have an asthma attack

If you think you're having an asthma attack, try to stay calm and:

  1. Sit upright - do not lie down.
  2. Take slow, steady breaths.
  3. Take 1 puff of your reliever inhaler every 30 to 60 seconds, up to 10 puffs. Use a spacer if you can.
  4. If you do not feel better after 10 puffs, call 112 or 999 and ask for an ambulance.
  5. If your symptoms do not improve after 10 minutes, repeat step 3.
  6. If the ambulance has not arrived, call 112 or 999 again immediately.

Never be afraid to call for help in an emergency.

Bring your asthma action plan with you to the hospital if you can.

If your symptoms improve, ask your GP for an urgent appointment.

After an asthma attack

Talk to your GP or asthma nurse about:

  • how to reduce your risk of asthma attacks
  • changes that may help you manage your condition

Your GP or asthma nurse may change your treatment or check how you use your inhaler.

Preventing asthma attacks

To reduce the risk of having an asthma attack:

Do

Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP if:

  • your asthma symptoms are getting worse
  • your peak flow score is low
  • you use your reliever inhaler 2 or 3 times a week or more

Advice for family and friends

Family, friends and people at your work should know how to help you in an emergency.

Share your asthma action plan with people who may need to know what to do if you have an asthma attack. You could make copies or share a picture of your plan.

Living with asthma


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 8 December 2023
Next review due: 8 December 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 9.