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Knowing When To Go To The Doctor

Spring always seems to bring on changes in my symptoms. All those environmental triggers are out in full force. While I am happy to ditch winter boots and puffy coats, I am not so excited about embracing spring triggers. It also seems that many people that I work with or am in contact with have a cold. I am not sure if it was the winter that has felt never-ending or just one of those things. This had me thinking about identifying when changes in symptoms are more than, “just” changes in symptoms. When do you know when it is time to go to the doctor?

The asthma gray area

As asthma is variable, it is important to be on top of changes in symptoms. This is especially important if you have noticed a sudden onset of worsening symptoms, changes in your rescue medication usage, and even feeling generally off. It is worth connecting with your care team for evaluation.

This had me thinking about the hard and fast rules about connecting. With your care team or knowing when to contact your doctor. In general, we have quantitative measurements for assessing this by using spirometry or peak flow meters and asthma action plans. Even with these guidelines, have you ever felt unsure if it was time to call your doctor. I know sometimes when I monitored, I am not sure if I “believed” the numbers, was I truly feeling this way? Would my doctor believe me? One of the ways that I battle this, was being armed with my data as well as having conversations up front with my care team to determine when it is time to be seen and what the procedures for asthma emergencies are in their practice.

What warrants an emergency?

In general, asthma emergencies need immediate care. The American Lung Association suggests seeing a physician right away if you are experiencing any of these:1

  • Feeling, faint, dizzy or weak.
  • You have trouble doing a routine activity, such as cooking dinner, cleaning or taking out the trash.
  • You have a cough that won’t go away.
  • You’re wheezing when you breathe in or out, especially if this different from your usual breathing pattern.
  • Your wheezing gets worse even after you have given your medicine time to start working (most quick-relief medicine work within 15 minutes).

Everyone’s threshold is different

I was once treated in practice where I needed to come in immediately even if I had even slight changes. I was then managed in a practice that used different criteria, where there was data that needed to be tracked and then a call with an RT or nurse. I have even had the false positive, a common cold that was mostly viral that I thought was exacerbating my asthma but it turned out to just be viral.

What are your thresholds? What parameters have you determined with your care team? Do you use other indicators to indicate when you need to be evaluated? I would love to hear about your experiences.

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

  1. When to See Your Doctor. American Lung Association. Accessed on May 28, 2019. From:


  • wheezie1
    9 months ago

    I have had asthma for over 50 years and several things are red flags for me:
    1) a Peak flow that is half of my personal best or a sudden drastic drop with accompanying symptoms;
    2) difficulty talking because of shortness if breath; and
    3) syncope or near syncope.

    #3, above, occurred at the gym after a spin class and the paramedics were called, precipitating a trip to the ER, where a low potassium level was discovered. I was given potassium and a sodium chloride IV. I later realized that my overuse of my albuterol inhaler had contributed to the low potassium level. Now, I am careful to rest when I need to and not try to keep up by taking too many puffs of albuterol.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    9 months ago

    Hi again, wheezie, and thanks for joining in the conversation responding to Dia’s article. We appreciate you sharing your personal experiences with the community and how you manage asthma for yourself. Shared information is invaluable to our online community. Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

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