SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- An asthma attack can become an emergency, needing first aid and urgent medical attention.
- If you take quick action, you can reduce the risk of an asthma emergency.
- If you or a family member has asthma, be sure to prepare an Asthma Action Plan with the help of your doctor.
- In an asthma emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
- During an asthma attack or emergency, follow your Asthma Action Plan or the asthma first aid steps.
This material was developed prior to coronavirus (COVID-19).
An asthma flare-up is a worsening of asthma symptoms and lung function compared to what you would usually experience day to day. An asthma flare-up can come on slowly (over hours, days or even weeks) or very quickly (over minutes).
A sudden or severe asthma flare-up is sometimes called an asthma attack. An asthma attack can quickly become an asthma emergency, but if you take quick action, you can reduce the risk of an asthma emergency.
Your doctor will:
- prescribe the correct
- help you to develop a plan to
- provide you with an action plan to manage your asthma and provide instructions in case of an asthma flare-up.
Follow your Asthma Action Plan if the symptoms of an asthma attack appear.
Signs that you need to use asthma first aid
If you are experiencing any of the following signs, start asthma first aid. Do not wait until asthma is severe.
Mild to moderate asthma signs (commence asthma first aid):
- minor difficulty breathing
- able to talk in full sentences
- able to walk or move around
- may have a cough or wheeze.
Severe asthma signs (call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and commence asthma first aid):
- obvious difficulty breathing
- cannot speak a full sentence in one breath
- tugging of the skin between ribs or at base of neck
- may have cough or wheeze
- reliever medication not lasting as long as usual.
Life-threatening asthma signs (call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and commence asthma first aid):
- finds it very difficult to breathe (gasping for air)
- unable to speak one to two words per breath
- confused or exhausted
- lips are turning blue
- has symptoms that get worse very quickly
- is getting little or no relief from their reliever inhaler
- may no longer have wheeze or cough.
In asthma emergencies, follow your Asthma Action Plan.
Know the four steps of asthma first aid
Step 1: Sit the person upright
- Be calm and reassuring.
- Do not leave them alone.
Step 2: Give 4 separate puffs of blue/grey reliever puffer
- Shake the puffer.
- Put 1 puff into the spacer.
- Take 4 breaths from the spacer. Repeat until 4 puffs have been taken. (If you don’t have a spacer, simply inhale 4 puffs directly by mouth).
Remember: Shake, 1 puff, 4 breaths OR give 2 separate doses of a Bricanyl inhaler (age 6 and over) or a Symbicort inhaler (over 12).
Step 3: Wait 4 minutes
Wait 4 minutes. If there is no improvement, give 4 more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever, as with Step 2 OR give 1 more dose of Bricanyl or Symbicort inhaler.
Step 4: If there is still no improvement dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance
Keep giving the person 4 separate puffs every 4 minutes until emergency assistance arrives.
Call triple zero (000) immediately if:
- the person is not breathing
- their asthma suddenly becomes worse
- the person is having an asthma attack and there’s no blue or grey reliever available
- you are not sure if it is asthma.
Asthma symptoms in a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
People having a severe allergic reaction () can also have asthma-like symptoms. If the person has an , follow the instructions. If they have known severe allergies and carry an adrenaline autoinjector (also known as an epi-pen), use that before using asthma reliever medication.
In case of an emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- The has produced a number of videos to help you better understand and manage your child's asthma
- Tel. – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- Tel. 13 SICK () for after-hours home doctor visits (bulk billed)
- Tel. 1800 ASTHMA ()