How to Manage an Asthma Flare or Attack
It is important to know your asthma symptoms and what causes your asthma to worsen (triggers).
Avoiding your triggers is the best way to avoid an asthma attack. Some triggers, like catching a
cold, cannot be avoided while others, like being near tobacco smoke, can be. Taking a daily
asthma controller medicine, if prescribed, helps prevent asthma attacks by keeping swelling
under control inside your airways.
The most common asthma symptoms include:
ξ Shortness of breath
ξ Chest tightness
If these symptoms are present, albuterol (or your prescribed quick-relief medicine) should be
taken. Watch your response closely. If symptoms persist after 15-20 minutes, your prescribed
quick-relief medicine should be repeated.
If the symptoms listed below are present after taking your quick-relief medicine, you should
contact your doctor or health care provider.
ξ Asthma symptoms remain or get worse
ξ Peak flow number (if checked) does not improve or gets worse
ξ Trouble walking or talking due to shortness of breath or wheezing
Go to the Emergency Room or call 911 if:
ξ Breathing is very difficult including:
o Pulling in of the chest and/or neck muscles
o Hunching over to breathe
o Struggling to get air in or out
ξ Your quick-relief medicine is not helping your symptoms
ξ Your lips or finger nails are looking blue in color
Never drive yourself to the emergency room if you are having asthma symptoms. Call a family
member, friend, or neighbor to help. Or, call 911.
Remain calm if your or your child’s asthma symptoms are getting worse. “Losing your cool” or
showing anxiety can make asthma symptoms worse.
Please talk to your health care provider, doctor or nurse. Ask for a written asthma action plan
which will help you manage asthma flares or attacks.
ξ Know your warning sign triggers and peak flow zones so you can begin treatment early.
ξ Take the correct amount of medicine at the times the doctor has stated. If the asthma
control plan includes an increased dosage or a second medicine to be used during flares or
attacks (yellow zone), take it as prescribed.
ξ Always call your doctor if you need to take more medicine than the doctor ordered.
ξ Remove yourself or your child from the trigger if you know what it is. Treatment does
not work as well if the patient stays around the trigger.
ξ Stay calm and relaxed. Family members must stay calm and relaxed too.
ξ Review the list below for signs to seek emergency medical care for asthma. They
o Your wheeze, cough, or shortness of breath gets worse, even after the medicine has
been given and has had time to work. Most inhaled bronchodilator medicines
produce an effect within 5 to 10 minutes. Discuss the time your medicines take to
work with your doctor.
o Your peak flow number goes down or does not improve after treatment with
bronchodilators. Or, if your peak flow number drops to 50 percent or less of personal
best. Discuss this peak flow level with your doctor.
o Your breathing gets difficult. Signs of this are:
Your chest and neck are pulled or sucked in with each breath
You are hunching over
You are struggling to breathe
o You have trouble walking or talking
o You stop playing or working and cannot start again
o Go to the Emergency Room if your lips or fingernails are gray or blue.
ξ Keep your important information for seeking emergency care handy.
ξ Call a family member, friend, or neighbor to help you if needed.
ξ Right away, call a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital for help if needed.
ξ Drink a lot of water; Just drink normal amounts
ξ Breathe warm moist air from a shower
ξ Rebreathe into a paper bag held over the nose
ξ Use over-the-counter cold remedies without first calling the doctor
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright 4/2015 by the University of Wisconsin
Hospital and Clinics Authority, All Rights Reserved. Department of Nursing. HF#5125