It can be hard to pinpoint when your asthma symptoms have gone from annoying to potentially dangerous and requiring medical treatment.
Even though I feel like I know my asthma pretty well, many times I have wondered just where that line is — when are my symptoms severe enough to prompt a trip to the emergency department?
Fortunately, that hasn’t happened, but over the years there have been times when I had to seek medical attention for my asthma.
Understanding your condition can help you spot any red flags that indicate it’s time to call your doctor or visit the emergency room, without any second-guessing.
Asthma symptoms you shouldn’t ignore
Asthma symptoms can often be treated at home using medications prescribed by your doctor. However, sometimes symptoms may not respond to medication or can be more intense than usual.
If you’re experiencing abnormal symptoms or you’re not responding to your medication, it’s best to call your doctor and let them know the situation. They will help you to figure out the next steps.
In my opinion and experience, it’s always best to err on the side of safety — if for whatever reason you can’t reach your doctor, you may want to consider heading to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.
The following are signs of a potentially serious asthma attack, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- severe shortness of breath, which is significantly worse than normal or occurs while at rest
- severe wheezing
- severe cough you can’t stop
- peak flow readings in your low “yellow zone” or “red zone” (under 60 percent of your personal best)
- symptoms that aren’t improving after using your rescue medications, or if you find that you need more doses than normal
The Cleveland Clinic also notes symptoms that require immediate medical attention. These include:
- changes in skin color, which might include loss of color (pallor) or blue lips or fingernails
- difficulty speaking
- chest pain and pressure, or feeling like you can’t exhale completely
My motto: Trust your gut (or, in this case, your lungs). If you feel you should go to the hospital, listen to what your body is telling you and follow your instinct!
Consider an asthma action plan
Creating an asthma action plan has also helped me to better manage my asthma over the years. It may be worth creating your own action plan with your doctor when you’re well. Determining when to seek emergency care and the steps to take ahead of time could potentially save your life.
An asthma action plan is created with your doctor to help you best respond to mild, moderate, severe, or life-threatening asthma symptoms. Many asthma action plan templates can be found online — here is just one sample.
Your asthma action plan may change over time, so it’s important to review it with your doctor regularly.
Creating an asthma action plan can help you to be better prepared in case of an emergency. By working with your doctor, you can familiarize yourself with your triggers and any symptoms that may warrant a trip to the emergency room.
NPS-IE-NP-00128 November 2020