If an asthma attack happens and a person does not have their inhaler ready to use, they can take steps to help them focus on breathing, for example, by sitting upright and remaining calm.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, and a feeling of breathlessness. When a person experiences an asthma attack, these symptoms worsen and can become life threatening.

Doctors treat asthma with two broad types of medications: quick relief and long-term management. People typically use inhalers to administer quick-relief medications that work quickly to open up the airways during an asthma attack.

A person with asthma should aim to keep an inhaler with them at all times. However, there may be situations when a person experiences an asthma attack, but an inhaler is not available.

This article reviews the steps a person can take if they are having an asthma attack and an inhaler is not available for immediate use. It also discusses symptoms of asthma attacks and how to help prevent them.

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A person should call 911 (or the local emergency number) if they do not have their asthma medication and have an asthma attack. A 911 operator can dispatch emergency services to the person and may also provide support over the phone until they arrive.

Once a person is in the emergency room, healthcare professionals will likely provide medication using a nebulizer or an intravenous (IV) line. They may also provide other emergency therapies to restore breathing, such as oxygen therapy or breathing assistance with a ventilator.

Sitting upright may help with breathing.

According to a 2018 review of studies, sitting during a pulmonary (lung) function test may help improve the results of the test. A pulmonary function test measures how well a person’s lungs are working.

If sitting upright can positively affect the results of a lung function test, it may also ease a person’s breathing during an asthma attack.

Asthma attacks can be frightening, especially for young children or in cases of severe attacks. Taking steps to remain calm may help a person stay focused on breathing as best as possible.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that a person should take steps to cope with stress and anxiety during an emergency. For example, a person may try to watch television or listen to music to help take their mind off the asthma attack and keep themselves calm.

Breathing during an asthma attack can be very difficult. Some people describe the sensation as trying to breathe through a straw.

Limited evidence suggests that practicing breathing exercises regularly may help with hyperventilation and lung function overall, although experts need to conduct further research. Various breathing exercises may help, such as yogic breathing and deep diaphragmatic breathing.

By practicing these techniques, a person may find breathing easier during an asthma attack.

Asthma triggers are anything that may cause an asthma attack to occur. Some examples of asthma triggers may include:

If a person has an asthma attack due to the presence of a known trigger, they should move away from it. A person may need assistance from another person to help move to a new location or to move the trigger itself away from the person.

Asthma attacks can cause gradual or rapid onset of symptoms. They can be life threatening if a person does not get enough oxygen.

When they occur, a person may experience:

It is not always possible to prevent an asthma attack, but several factors may help reduce a person’s risk of experiencing one.

A person should ensure they take any medications a doctor prescribes as directed. If medications are causing side effects, a person should discuss them with a healthcare professional to find out whether any other medications may work more effectively for them. A doctor may prescribe different medications depending on a person’s individual needs.

Triggers play an important role in asthma attacks. If a person is not sure what may trigger an attack, they should consider keeping a journal of when attacks happen to see if a pattern develops that points to possible triggers.

Some tips to avoid common triggers include:

  • keeping windows closed when air quality is low
  • avoiding strenuous exercise or activities
  • keeping animals out of the home or out of bedrooms
  • limiting time outside in certain circumstances, such as during pollen season
  • ensuring that indoor cooking and heating devices are well-ventilated
  • quitting smoking if applicable and staying away from secondhand smoke
  • receiving the flu vaccine

A person can make some lifestyle changes to help manage asthma. Some recommendations include:

When an asthma attack occurs and a person does not have an inhaler, they should try to remain calm and call 911. They should also sit upright, focus on breathing steadily, and move away from any potential triggers.

Symptoms of an asthma attack can come on gradually or suddenly and often include tightness in the chest, wheezing, and lightheadedness.

A person can take steps to help prevent asthma attacks. They can keep a list of potential asthma triggers, take medications exactly as a doctor prescribes, and make certain lifestyle changes.