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How to Treat an Asthma Attack Without an Inhaler

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 28, 2020

When you have asthma, you’ll usually use your inhaler to feel better. But you may have an attack in an area where you can’t get to your medication.

Luckily, there are things that you can do to breathe better when your inhaler is out of reach.

In the Moment

If you are having an attack, or you feel one coming, try these techniques:

Sit up. You may want to lie down when an attack hits. Don't. If you do, or even if you only bend over, it could restrict your breathing more.

Focus on your breathing. There are different methods that you can practice so that you're ready if the moment comes. They can also help you when you're not having an attack:

The Buteyko method teaches you to breathe slowly and calmly through your nose instead of your mouth. If you use this technique, the air in your body will stay warm and moist. This helps your airways become less sensitive when you breathe.

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The Papworth method uses breathing and relaxation exercises to help you learn special breath patterns. It encourages more relaxed breathing and makes you more aware of the muscles you use when you take air in. For example, you’ll use your diaphragm and nose instead of your chest and mouth. The Papworth method also teaches how to alter your breathing according to the activity you're doing.

Talk with your doctor. Both of these take time to learn, and you’ll need to practice each in order for them to help with your asthma.

Stay away from triggers. Some things around you or in your home can make your asthma worse. If you're having an attack -- or even if you're not -- try to stay away from these things as much as you can:

Take some honey. If you eat a spoonful of it, or mix it into a glass of water, the honey will help get rid of phlegm in your throat. That can allow you to breathe better.

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Even when you're not having an attack, it’s a good idea to have honey before you go to bed. When it gets rid of the phlegm in your throat, you'll sleep better. That can help you wake up refreshed.

Drink caffeine. A coffee, soda, tea, or other drink with caffeine can help your airways open. A small amount of caffeine can help you breathe better for up to 4 hours. We need more research to know if caffeinated drinks can permanently help with symptoms of asthma.

Use eucalyptus oil. Put a couple of drops in a bowl of boiled water and breathe in the steam to help clear out blocked passageways. It can also break down mucus.

You can also put some drops on a napkin and lay it close to your nose while you sleep to help you get better rest.

Talk to your doctor about this before you try it. Some products with eucalyptus oil also contain chemicals that can aggravate asthma in some people.

Try mustard oil. Warmed-up oil from mustard seeds can help you breathe. The oil opens your passageways and helps your lungs work after you rub it on your chest. It’s safe, so you can use it as much as you need to feel better.

When to Call Your Doctor

If none of these suggestions help and you can’t find an inhaler, call your doctor. If your breathing gets worse or you start to feel drowsy, call 911 right away.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Asthma attack,” “Asthma.”

Asthma UK: “Complementary therapies and asthma.”

The Pan African Medical Journal: “Sleeping position and reported night-time asthma symptoms and medication.”

International Pain Foundation: “8 Best Home Remedies for Asthma.”

Cochrane: “The effect of caffeine in people with asthma.”

American Family Physician: “How to Treat an Asthma Attack.”

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