Asthma Action Plan

7 Signs You Need to go to the ER for Your Asthma Attack

HealthCentral Editorial Team Jun 13th, 2013 (updated Aug 25th, 2014)
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You're lethargic or confused
You're lethargic or confused

Any severe change in your mental state during an asthma attack should be taken seriously. If you or your child appears exhausted or disoriented, confused or has severe anxiety, it’s time to seek emergency care. 

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You can't speak
You can't speak

If a cough won't let up, or if you can't complete a full sentence in one breath even after taking your rescue medication, you should call for help. 

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You have a bluish tint
You have a bluish tint

A bluish or gray tint to the lips, face or fingernails is called cyanosis, and it means you or your child is not getting enough oxygen. This is definitely a sign that you should call an ambulance. 

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You can see your ribs
You can see your ribs

During a severe asthma attack, the skin between the ribs or in the neck may sink in during inhalation. This is called retraction, and it requires immediate intervention.

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You've stopped wheezing
You've stopped wheezing

Many parents see a reduction in wheezing or gulping air as a good sign, but if breathing is still difficult and the wheeze is gone, it could mean that a child's airways are too narrow and that air can't move in or out. 

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You're hunched over
You're hunched over

During a severe asthma attack, many people will unconsciously change their posture by hunching over in order to make it easier to breathe. This posture change can worsen during an acute attack, and it's a good clue that an asthma attack is serious. 

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You've got a gut feeling
You've got a gut feeling

If you've lived with your own asthma or parent a child with asthma, you likely know what a "typical" attack feels and looks like. Listen to your instincts; if you feel intuitively that an attack is severe, call an ambulance immediately. Nobody knows your body or your child's health the way that you do.