someone flipping a coin with an ambulance on it

Hmmm...Should I Go To The Hospital?

For those of you with asthma, have you ever thought "Hmm...I wonder if I should go to the hospital?"

This happened a lot when my kids were little. They were in the hospital 12 times for asthma (2 ICU's.) I quickly learned to trust my Mother's Instinct.

The pediatrician would always say "It's just a virus. Keep giving them nebulizer treatments, but your kids should be fine."

They usually weren't "fine." They would get worse until they ended up in the hospital.

When Asthma Mom can't breathe

This time, it was my turn. I was struggling to breathe, and I was getting worse - despite my breathing treatments.

During a meeting with another agency, smoke from the California fires started filling the building. Our state's air quality suddenly dropped to "red," meaning the air was "unhealthy for all." By the time I was able to get out of the building and cross the smoky parking lot to my car, my lungs were already on fire.

I had no idea how much damage had been done and what was going to happen to me next.

When asthma gets worse

This is not intended as medical advice. If you are struggling to breathe, call your doctor or get medical help - ASAP!

There are some basic symptoms during an asthma attack or asthma flare:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

But what happens when it gets worse? What are the emergency symptoms of asthma? Global Allergy and Airways Patient Platform (GAAP) has a list:1

  • Rapid breathing (think panting)
  • Extreme shortness of breathe
  • Face, lips or fingernails have a bluish tint
  • Can't talk in full sentences
  • Being agitated or confused
  • Reliever/rescue inhaler isn't helping

As an Asthma Educator, I teach families all of the symptoms of when they need to go to the ER, or call 911. I can recite the emergency symptoms of asthma in my sleep. Suddenly, I realized I HAD ALL of the emergency symptoms!

And I found myself thinking, "I wonder if I should go to the hospital?" I teach families if they ever wonder that, the answer is always YES! Listen to your body and your intuition.

So, off we went. My husband quickly drove me to the closest hospital, which was only 5 minutes away. The ER nurse took me back to a room and started to assess me.

Symptoms trump numbers

The ER nurse said, "Your oxygen level looks fine." I managed to gasp between each word and say, "Symptoms trump numbers." My good friend Theresa is a long-time respiratory therapist and teaches her patients that symptoms are ALWAYS more important than an oxygen level reading.

I knew I was in serious trouble and this was the first time in my life I was scared I could DIE from asthma. I could not say a full sentence because I had to stop and gasp for air after every word, my albuterol was not helping, and all I could focus on was getting my next breath.

The ER nurse was still skeptical so I looked at my husband and nodded my head at the nurse. He did the talking for me and told her that I am an Asthma Educator, and knew what I was talking about. If I was afraid I was going to stop breathing, she had better pay attention. He also told the ER doc the same thing when he listened to my lungs.

I won't go into all of the details, but I felt like I had to fight for myself to be taken seriously. More than once, my kids "crashed" in the ER and ended up in ICU. I know how quickly asthma can go from bad to worse.

After a long stay in the ER, lots of breathing treatments, and waiting for a liquid steroid to kick in, I felt stable enough to go home and have my husband monitor me.

Have you had emergency asthma symptoms?

For those of you who had to go to the hospital, what was your "aha" moment? When did you realize you were in your red zone, or in danger? Do you feel like the hospital staff listened?

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