Asthma Attack: Care Instructions

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The lungs and an inflamed bronchial tube

Your Care Instructions

During an asthma attack, the airways swell and narrow. This makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening, but you can help prevent them by keeping your asthma under control and treating symptoms before they get bad. Symptoms include being short of breath, chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing. Noting and treating these symptoms can also help you avoid future trips to the emergency room.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Follow your asthma action plan to prevent and treat attacks. If you don't have an asthma action plan, work with your doctor to create one.
  • Take your asthma medicines exactly as prescribed. Talk to your doctor right away if you have any questions about how to take them.
    • Use your quick-relief medicine when you have symptoms of an attack. Quick-relief medicine is usually a salbutamol inhaler. Some people need to use quick-relief medicine before they exercise.
    • Take your controller medicine every day, not just when you have symptoms. Controller medicine is usually an inhaled corticosteroid. The goal is to prevent problems before they occur. Don't use your controller medicine to treat an attack that has already started. It doesn't work fast enough to help.
    • If your doctor prescribed corticosteroid pills to use during an attack, take them exactly as prescribed. It may take hours for the pills to work, but they may make the episode shorter and help you breathe better.
    • Keep your quick-relief medicine with you at all times.
  • Talk to your doctor before using other medicines. Some medicines, such as aspirin, can cause asthma attacks in some people.
  • If you have a peak flow meter, use it to check how well you are breathing. This can help you predict when an asthma attack is going to occur. Then you can take medicine to prevent the asthma attack or make it less severe.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. Avoid smoky places. Smoking makes asthma worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Learn what triggers an asthma attack for you, and avoid the triggers when you can. Common triggers include colds, smoke, air pollution, dust, pollen, mould, pets, cockroaches, stress, and cold air.
  • Avoid colds and influenza (flu). Get a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor if you need a second dose. Get a flu vaccine every fall. If you must be around people with colds or the flu, wash your hands often.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your symptoms do not get better after you have followed your asthma action plan.
  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • Your coughing and wheezing get worse.
  • You cough up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).
  • You have a new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You need to use quick-relief medicine on more than 2 days a week (unless it is just for exercise).
  • You cough more deeply or more often, especially if you notice more mucus or a change in the colour of your mucus.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

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