5 Tips: When To Seek Help For Asthma

Many times as a child with high-risk asthma I suffered too long before seeking help. Even as an adult I am guilty of this from time to time, although I’m far better than I used to be. I have had many asthmatic patients tell me, “Yeah, I should have called my doctor two days ago, but I figured I could just fix myself.” So, I’ve decided it’s normal for asthmatics to have difficulty deciding when to seek help. Based on my own personal and professional experience, here are five tips to help you decide when to seek help.

  1. Your symptoms are getting worse. The oldest method of knowing when to seek medical attention is to listen to your body. Asthma is one of those diseases that offers symptoms and signs telling you how your asthma is doing. Once you become adept at learning what your body is saying, this can help you decide what actions to take, such as when to get away from your asthma triggers, when to take your rescue medicine, and when to seek help.
  2. Your peak flows are headed south.  Most asthma experts recommend that every asthmatic use a peak flow meter either every morning or every evening or both. This can be a useful tool for determining how your asthma is doing. In fact, your peak flows can often indicate your asthma is getting worse before you even feel symptoms. So, if your peak flows are heading in a downward direction, this indicates that some action on your part is indicated. If your peak flows are in the red zone, and your efforts to treat yourself continue to fail, this means you need to seek help right now.
  3. You’re using more rescue medicine than normal.  This is a classic sign that your asthma is getting worse and that you need to seek help. If you’re constantly puffing on your rescue inhaler hoping and praying that it will work this time, chances are it won’t. A typical prescription calls for 2-4 puffs of albuterol every 4-6 hours. If you’ve already exceeded this dose, and you still don’t feel right, it’s time to seek help. The same goes for albuterol breathing treatments.
  4. Your gut says you need to seek help. So, that little voice in the back of your head is saying, “call your doctor!” or “Go to the emergency room!” This is followed by the unending task of mulling it over in your head: “I will be fine if I just wait a little longer,” or “they will just tell me I’m not sick enough.” First off, no responsible healthcare giver is going to tell you that you are not sick enough. Second off, most healthcare givers understand it’s much easier to get you breathing easy again if you seek help early, as opposed to waiting. Look, it is very normal for us asthmatics to deny that we need to seek help, especially when we can’t breathe. This is true even for asthmatics who are doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. So, when your mind says to seek help, just do it! 
  5. Someone tells you to seek help. By the time your asthma attack becomes severe, your asthma signs should be pretty obvious to others around you. For example, when you start talking in short choppy sentences, are breathing paradoxically, and are leaning on things to breathe, any vigilant person around you should take notice. This could be a parent, friend, teacher, or coworker. This should entice them to say something to you, such as, “You need to go to the emergency room.” If someone says something about your breathing, you ought to heed their advice.

Seek help when you need it. It’s never easy making the decision to seek help, especially when you’re feeling anxiety associated with difficulty breathing. By heeding these five tips you should be able to get the help when you need it, and quickly get back on your way to breathing easy and living normally.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


View Comments (6)
  • Tom77
    1 week ago

    thank you for this easy to read, clear and concise article explaining a battle we all engage in as asthmatics. It is amazing to me that I still struggle with this and then go to Urgent Care only to find out I have an pneumonia and it is triggering my asthma. Your article gives me the courage to challenge my thinking and reconsider my needs. Good job.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    7 days ago

    As Leon said, I am definitely gratified. But, more important, I’m happy my article resonated with you. It’s so easy to think we can just tough it out when we ought to be seeking help. Another thing that can help is an asthma action plan. Do you have one? John. Site Moderator. https://asthma.net/living/7-reasons-i-dont-have-a-written-asthma-action-plan/

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    7 days ago

    Oops. I sent the wrong link. Here’s the link I intended to send. https://asthma.net/coping/developingactionplan/ John. Site Moderator.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 days ago

    Hi Tom77 and thanks for your post and the kind words. I’m sure John will be gratified to read what you’ve written about the content of his article. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • CChandanais
    2 years ago

    I usually wait to go to the ER until my nebs and inhaler stop working for at least 2 treatments or until I can’t even do a peak flow anymore because they have said many times that it isn’t asthma or that I am fine. During my last exacerbation, I waited till the nebs stopped helping at home and was then sent home after an hour and a half, 1 breathing treatment, 1 dose of IV steroids, and breathing the same as when I went to the ER with a peak flow well into my red zone. I was back the next day because I couldn’t do a peak flow at all. The triage nurse took me right back to the ER and the doctor decided to admit me within an hour. I did not see a pulmonologist the entire time I was there. The hospitalist happened to come in when the RT was in the room and commented that I wasn’t wheezing so I was fine. The RT told him that I was very diminished but the he pretty much just shrugged and left the room. A few days later I finally started wheezing and the doctor said, “Oh, I guess you weren’t doing well” and discharged me that afternoon.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi CChandanais and thanks so much for sharing your experiences. I’m sure others in our community have similar experiences. For many of us with asthma, we know our condition best. The hospital staff can usually treat us much, much better when they listen to what we have to say – they will benefit from our experience!
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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