What Are the Signs of a Severe Asthma Attack?

I was working on something else and found myself watching this . I found it good refresher to know when it's time to get emergency medical help. It reminded me that I can't just go off the numbers – mine don't always drop suddenly. That I need to also be aware of symptoms. And which symptoms mean get help immediately.

What factors do you go by to know when you need to seek treatment? Does your include just PF zones or also symptoms to look for?


Comments 7

  • Marie E Natzke

    It was a surprise for me when I had the Asthma attack 4years ago. My symptoms changed from what It was like when I was a child. My mouth itched, I had an sore throat but it wasn't a normal sore throat. I was very hoarse as well. My heart was racing at times too. I also was achey. When I was a child I had a tickle in my chin. But difference from child to adult

  • K8sMom2002

    Marie, that WAS different! What did your allergist say about the itchy mouth and the sore throat and hoarseness? 

    Kathy, my action plan pretty much ALWAYS relies on symptoms and not numbers, since it's mostly intermittent and fairly well controlled. I feel like since I have had AAFA's action plan that I discussed with my doc, AND a sick plan, I've had fewer out of control episodes. And I feel better knowing WHEN I need to seek medical help. I don't struggle as long, and my body seems to respond better.

  • Kathy P

    That's great that things are more controlled Cynthia – and that means fewer flares!

    @Marie E Natzke those symptoms sound quite scary. The itchy mouth and throat issues are not typical – but they can be . My daughter gets an itchy mouth from foods that cause  (scroll down for the section on OAS) for her – that's caused by food proteins (usually in raw fruits/veggies) that cross react with pollen that she is allergic to. But her nut allergy causes an itchy mouth and a weird feeling in her throat that sometimes she mistakes for asthma.

  • Marie E Natzke

    K8SMOM2002; Kathy P

    He told me and I've also read that you can have different symptoms with each attack you have or for some the symptoms are the same. I did go to the ER that day because I thought I had caught something from my trip to Montana to visit friends. But the ER Doctor confirmed it was an asthma attack. The bottom half of both lungs stopped working. I could take a shallow breath but couldn't get the air out/exhale easily. The told me They could hear me take a breath but didn't hear the air moving through the lungs. So no it wasn't anaphylaxis attack. My color was bad too. The nurse in the ER told me later I had a grayish look when I came in. But after 2 nebulizer treatments my color was more normal looking. 

    Kathy P I was unknowingly exposed to dogs at work and that's my asthma attack trigger. Since I quit working there my Dr can't get over the difference in me. Now it's just dealing with weather changes and seasonal and indoor allergens. It's been 4 years and 4 months since I had the Asthma attack. Been short of breath due to sudden weather changes or super hot humid or extremely cold weather. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Marie, you were SO smart to head to the ER! That had to be a scary, scary time for you, and I'm so glad you got the help you needed! 

    I'm the same way with weather changes — ugh, ugh, ugh — still, we can follow the weather and know when it's coming, right? Does your doc have a plan for you on days when the weather's going to do a sharp turn?

  • Marie E Natzke


    when I had the attack I didn't have a nebulizer at home. The ER Dr gave me a hard time about it. When I told her it had been 45 years between attacks and my Drs didn't feel it was necessary for me to have one. She didn't know what to say.  But I do have one now. I would not be here if I wasn't taken to the hospital that morning. 

    One thing I haven't seen anyone say anything about is the confusion, being irritable, tiredness,pain. Just before an asthma attack. That morning I was really out of it. My family was talking to me and I thought I answered them but I didnt. 

    My chiropractor and rheumatologist both had me increase vitamin D3 which I think is helping me too. 

    No. I tell him what I did and he's ok with that. I read all that a lot of you go through and I'm very lucky. When I'm having a problem breathing because of the weather I use the rescue inhaler for maybe a couple days. When I get bronchitis or sinus infection then I might need the nebulizer for a few days. And I'm ok after that. As my chiropractor and allergist nicely tell me I'm not normal. Sometimes less is better for me, but I'm on all the drugs that can be given as my allergist reminds me. Allergy shots, allegra, montelukast, symbicort,proair rescue inhaler, nebulizer(same drug as the rescue inhaler). Having the Asthma attack like I did and then going into menopause was bad timing. And then the type of inflammatory arthritis I have doesn't help either. I can't be on prednisone for too long or a high of a dose because of the arthritis drug it would intensify the drug and could cause serious problems or infections. 

    I've noticed this winter I did better than last winter. Could be because my sinus infection is gone. I see the ENT in 4 weeks to see if the budesonide is working. 

  • K8sMom2002

    Marie, I really love that your medical team is working together to care for your entire health picture! 

    And I get the part about going so long between attacks … I was first DX with asthma one winter after a long bout with bronchitis and winding up in a doctor's office not able to breathe. They gave me the prescription for the inhaler, instructions to use it … and I got better.

    Fast forward to late that summer. I was going from my air conditioned office to my car on a triple digit day — it was HOT. I got in my car, started down the interstate, and realized I couldn't breathe. I couldn't figure out why, couldn't understand why I couldn't think, couldn't focus — gracious, I had no business behind the wheel. All I could think was, "I've had this before, so what IS it?"

    It was an asthma attack. And I had no inhaler because nobody had told me that I needed to keep one (an UNEXPIRED and properly PRIMED one, too) with me at all times even if I felt "better."

    Yes — when you can't breathe, especially if your O2 sats (your oxygen level) are lower than normal or your CO2 (carbon dioxide) is higher than normal, you can certainly have quite a lot of confusion and brain fog and irritability and tiredness. There have been days when even brushing my teeth was a major ordeal, and I snapped my poor DH's head off. (He deserves a medal, by the way!)