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Asthma Health Center

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Emergency Asthma Treatment

Anyone with asthma should be prepared for an emergency. Even if you've kept your asthma under control for years, it could still get worse without you realizing it. Knowing the symptoms of an asthma emergency, how to monitor your asthma, and when to seek asthma emergency treatment could save your life.

Symptoms of an Asthma Attack

The symptoms of an asthma attack include

The intensity of these symptoms varies depending on the severity of the asthma attack. For instance, in a mild attack, you might feel breathless when walking, but OK once you sit down. During a severe asthma attack, the symptoms may be uncontrollable and much more dangerous. They require asthma emergency treatment.

Symptoms of an Asthma Emergency

These are symptoms of an asthma attack that requires emergency treatment:

  • Feeling out of breath, even when you're not moving
  • Trouble walking, talking, or doing normal activities
  • Anxiety
  • Not feeling better after using your rescue inhaler
  • Peak flow readings of less than 50% of your personal best
  • Bluish lips and fingernails
  • Exhaustion or confusion
  • The skin around your ribs looking "sucked in" (especially in children)
  • Unconsciousness

If you have allergies -- whether or not you have asthma -- you are at risk for anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. This is the most dangerous type of allergic response, during which your entire body reacts to the allergen. The airways can swell shut, making breathing impossible. Untreated, anaphylactic shock can be deadly. If you have asthma, it requires asthma emergency treatment.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

If you think you might be having an anaphylactic reaction, call 911 or get emergency help right away. If your doctor has prescribed epinephrine (or an antihistamine) for anaphylactic emergencies, carry two doses with you at all times and use it as directed. Do not hesitate to use the epinephrine auto-injector at the first sign of a reaction, even if you are not sure it is allergy related. The medicine will not hurt you and could save your life. Call 911 even if you use the injector.

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