What’s the Treatment for Severe Asthma?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on February 21, 2024
2 min read

The goal of asthma treatment is to avoid attacks so that you stay well. That’s often possible when you avoid your triggers, take your medicine, and follow the asthma action plan that you made with your doctor.

But if an asthma attack does happen, you must start treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.

If your symptoms are severe and don’t go away after you follow your asthma action plan and use your medications as directed by your doctor, then call 911 right away and get emergency help.  Don’t drive yourself to the hospital. It’s not safe.

When you get to the hospital, the doctors will make sure that your symptoms are due to asthma, how severe it is, and whether you have any other conditions that could be involved, such as pneumonia.

Your treatment in the hospital may include continuous use of an asthma nebulizer, and also supplemental oxygen and steroid medicine to stop the attack.

The doctor may also give you a dose of magnesium sulfate, which you’d get by IV, to help the muscles around your airways relax. These aren’t medicines that would be a normal part of asthma care -- doctors just use them for emergencies.

If medicines don’t help, you may need a mechanical ventilator in an intensive care unit to help you breathe. Your doctors will insert a breathing tube into your nose or mouth to do this.  These breathing aids are temporary. Your doctor will remove them once the attack ends and your lungs have recovered enough to breathe without the machine’s help. 

When the doctors at the hospital decide that you’re well enough to go home, they’ll make sure that you have:

  • Medicines to keep your asthma under control
  • An asthma action plan that lets you know how to prevent asthma attacks and manage your condition. You should already have one of these, but if you don’t, you will when you leave the hospital.
  • Instructions for follow-up care

If your child has asthma, make sure that their school, babysitters, day care, and anyone else who takes care of them knows about their asthma action plan so that they know what to do in case of an attack.