What Is an Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack occurs when the muscles surrounding the airways tighten (bronchoconstriction) and your airways become too narrow for you to breathe effectively.

An attack can happen suddenly if your asthma is not under control and you are exposed to one of your triggers. Or it can build up slowly, over hours, days or even weeks.

It is important to learn to recognize the symptoms of worsening asthma and know what to do if you have an asthma attack.

The most common symptoms include:

Mild to severe (the early warning signs of an asthma attack)

  • Disrupted sleep due to asthma symptoms
  • Daytime symptoms 4 or more times/week
  • Cannot exercise normally
  • Need reliever more than 4 times/week
  • Decreased activity level
  • Getting a cold or flu


If you experience any of the above symptoms, book an urgent appointment with your healthcare provider. An asthma attack could be on its way. The timely help can prevent dangerous consequences.

Life-threatening (time to get help as it is an asthma attack)

  • Difficulty speaking due to  asthma
  • Excessive cough, wheeze and chest tightness
  • Experiencing shortness of breath at rest
  • Lips or nail beds turning blue
  • Reliever doesn’t work
  • Sweating
  • Feeling anxiety and fear

If you have an asthma attack do:

  1. Sit up straight. Don’t lie down. Try to stay calm.
  2. Take your reliever medication as directed. Use your asthma action plan for reference.
  3. Call 911 if your symptoms persist or worsen. Do this if you feel worse at any point or if there is no improvement after using your medication.

After an asthma attack

One in six people who receive treatment at the hospital needs emergency treatment again within two weeks. Asthma attacks are not normal and you should not tolerate them.

Take the following key steps to prevent you having another attack in the future:

Book an urgent appointment with your healthcare provider (they will check your health state after the attack, prescribe necessary medication and review your asthma action plan)

Keep taking your asthma medication as prescribed


Take the rest of the day to recover after the attack (lots of people feel physically and emotionally exhausted)

It is important to know that the majority of severe asthma episodes can be avoided by having good asthma control.