You hope it never happens to you: having a serious asthma attack. But the fact is that everyone with asthma is at risk for experiencing a true health emergency, and there’s absolutely no way to know exactly how or when such a situation might strike. That’s why most medical experts recommend taking steps to prepare yourself well in advance for a time when your symptoms could get out of hand.

A Serious Problem

Every day, 5,000 people seek emergency care in the United States for asthma symptoms, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. When the symptoms strike suddenly and don’t respond to medication, or when they worsen over time and don’t seem to be getting any better, it is indeed important to seek medical care in a setting where you can be carefully monitored to head off any life-threatening complications.

Raise Your Awareness

Many people with asthma can describe a pattern of how their symptoms set in. But do you know your own signs? Even after multiple attacks, you may not be able to sit down and identify what you feel and when. If you aren’t completely aware of your symptoms in advance, you might want to try writing down the sequence of events next time so you can become more aware of what to expect and get an idea of when to go into emergency mode. Remember that the sooner you begin treating your symptoms, the quicker you can usually get them under control.

Rely on Your Asthma Management Plan

Your health care provider will likely help you develop a personalized asthma management plan (also known as an asthma action plan) that will offer key steps you can take in a crisis. If your symptoms start to worsen, you should refer to your plan to know exactly when to seek medical care.

Know the Warning Signs

The warning signs of an asthma attack may vary from person to person, but some typical symptoms that can be indicative of a serious problem brewing can include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty talking or catching your breath
  • Bluish skin and straining of your neck muscles and ribs
  • Dropping peak flow rate (this is a measure of your breathing capacity) that is less than half of your personal best reading

Have Medication Ready

You will want to be sure you have your fast-acting relief medication with you at all times, so you will always be prepared. It is often a good idea to have several bottles of this inhaler that you keep in different places so you will always have one on hand. For instance, leave one at work or school, keep one in your car and have one in the bathroom or kitchen where you will always know exactly where to find it in a pinch. Make sure you know exactly how to use the medication correctly. If necessary, leave written use and dosage directions with the inhaler so you won’t have to waste time looking any information up. Also have emergency phone numbers ready and waiting, just in case.

Double-Check Yourself

It is a good idea to sit down with your doctor at least once a year to review your asthma treatment plan and assess your emergency steps and see if they need to be updated in any way. While asthma never goes away, your symptoms can change over time and how you can best respond to them can change to best fit your evolving situation. When in doubt, just remember to always seek a health care professional’s opinion.
The bottom line is that asthma is serious business, but you can protect yourself by always being ready to seek medical help when you need it.