If you have asthma, you may have one or more of these symptoms:
- feeling breathless (you may gasp for breath)
- a tight chest, like a band tightening around it
- wheezing, a whistling sound when you breathe
- coughing, particularly at night and early morning
- attacks triggered by exercise, exposure to allergens (allergy triggering substances such as dust or animal hair) and other triggers
- you wake often at night with asthma symptoms
When asthma symptoms get significantly worse, this is known as an "asthma attack". A severe asthma attack usually develops slowly, taking 6 to 48 hours to become serious. However, for some people, asthma symptoms can get worse quickly.
Having a written asthma self-management plan, developed with your doctor, can help you to know how to best manage your asthma. It can also help you to know what to do in an asthma attack.
In a severe asthma attack, other things may happen such as:
- The reliever inhaler, which is usually blue, does not help symptoms at all.
- The symptoms of wheezing, coughing, tight chest are severe and constant.
- You are too breathless to speak in sentences.
- Your pulse is racing.
- You feel agitated or restless.
- Your lips or fingernails look blue.
Call triple zero (000) to seek immediate help if you or someone else has severe symptoms of asthma.
If you’re not sure whether it’s asthma, follow asthma first aid steps anyway. Asthma reliever medicine shouldn’t harm the person, even if they don’t have asthma.
If you think the person is having a severe allergic reaction, use their adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen) first and then given them asthma reliever medicine.
If you or someone you know has asthma, it is important to have an asthma action plan and to understand emergency asthma first aid. You can find out more details on the National Asthma Council website.
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Last reviewed: June 2018