Asthma and hospitalization

Sometime people with asthma need treatment in the hospital. This can happen if you have an asthma attack that has very severe symptoms, and you need emergency care to treat them. In other cases, people who have severe persistent asthma may need to have intensive treatment in the hospital as recommended by their healthcare providers.

How do I know if my asthma attack is severe enough that I need to go to the hospital?

Having an Asthma Action Plan that you designed with your healthcare provider is an important tool for deciding whether your symptoms are severe enough that you should go to the hospital.1-2 You should always follow your own healthcare providers’ advice about when to seek emergency treatment. However, the following severe symptoms can be very dangerous if not treated right away in the hospital:

  • You have shortness of breath that makes it hard to talk or walk
  • Your lips or fingernails have turned blue
  • You have wheezing or shortness of breath that does not go away after taking your rescue medication(s)

If you have these types of severe symptoms during an asthma attack, you should seek emergency care immediately. On the way to the hospital or while waiting for the ambulance, you should take your prescribed quick-acting medicine as detailed in your Action Plan if you haven’t already done so.
What kinds of emergency treatments are provided in the hospital?
When you arrive at the hospital during a severe asthma attack, healthcare providers will examine you and decide about the best course of treatment to get your asthma under control as quickly as possible. You should try to remember to bring along your Asthma Action Plan, so that they will know about your usual treatment regimen.
Treatments that can be used to help control your asthma attack include2:

  • Bronchodilators (such as albuterol or ipratropium), delivered through an inhaler or a nebulizer, can help to open up your airways
  • Corticosteroids, taken in a pill or through an IV, can help to reduce inflammation in the lungs

If your asthma attack is very severe and dangerous, you may need to have a breathing tube inserted down your throat and into your airway. A machine then pumps oxygen into your body so that you can breathe while other medicines help to control the attack.
While you are in the hospital, you will be asked to take lung function tests to measure how well the treatments are working to control and relieve your symptoms. Once your attack is under control, these tests can also be used regularly to help monitor your symptoms and predict when another attack may be on the way.1

How long will I need to stay in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital will depend on how severe your symptoms are, and how well they respond to the treatments you receive.2 Your healthcare providers may need you to stay in the emergency room for a certain amount of time after your attack is under control, to make sure that you don’t have another attack.
If your symptoms are not responding well enough to the emergency treatment, then you may need to be admitted to the hospital for a longer stay. In some cases, you might need to breathe oxygen through a mask and receive medications regularly over one or more days.

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