When is it an 'asthma attack'? - Asthma UK communi...

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When is it an 'asthma attack'?


I was with a friend who also has asthma when my symptoms were starting to get worse as they have been for the past few weeks. My chest gets tight, I cough and breathing in or out takes more effort. On this occasion I also had what i call 'noisy breathing' where it kind of feels wheezy but doesn't sound it to me. I took my inhaler and ten minutes later, still wasn't feeling 100%, so took 2 more puffs. After this I was feeling much better.

Now this isn't unusual for me at the minute so thought nothing of it. I'm getting these symptoms most days which is why I went to see my gp last week but I was told my pf was Ok, and to carry on with my seretide as usual.

Well my friend seemed really concerned. She asked me how often I'd been having these asthma attacks and when I said every day, she said I should see my doctor. But I hadn't thought that these were asthma attacks, more just a flare of symptoms. To me an asthma attack would be going to a&e.

So when do people class it as having an asthma attack?

5 Replies
EmmaF91Community Ambassador

I have had similar issues in the past (before I 'learnt' my body and about my condition).

Any exacerbation of symptoms can be classed as an 'attack' however there are many levels of asthma attack (mild, moderate, severe, life-threatening, near-fatal) and from the sounds of it you keep swinging into mild/moderate attacks (where a few reliever doses may help to stop it) however this is a sign that you are possibly becoming uncontrolled and should talk to a medical professional about it (before you do end up in hospital! I would advise going to see an asthma nurse (if you have one at your surgery)/returning to your GP or speaking to the asthma UK team for some advice

Do you have a peak flow meter? It may be worth doing your PF when you're feeling rough so you can let the medics know what's happening in a way that is clearer to them (some docs just don't seem to understand the intermittent nature of asthma), and can demonstrate your normal/best to how you've been recently. There are also 'tests' online which help to show you how controlled your asthma is/how likely an attack is to occur.

You shouldn't be needing to reach for your inhaler every day (or multiple times a day) but it may be useful to also try and work out if you have any triggers (like a pollen allergy) to see if controlling the trigger stops the attacks...

Just my experiences here - if you're worried soeak to someone (as stated above!)


-Butterfly- in reply to EmmaF91

Thank you for your reply Emma.

Yes, it's definately learning about your body and the condition, I was diagnosed a year or two back now, but am still very much learning.

Ah Ok. I thought an attack would be purely a life threatening set of symptoms. In that case I see why my friend was concerned. She sees the doctor when she's had one or two attacks over a couple of weeks.

The asthma nurse it truly useless so I refuse to see her but I will try and see a different GP. I feel as though it is uncontrolled but the GP last week didn't seem too bothered. But then I maybe dumbed it down a bit as he asked how many attacks I'd had, and I said I hadn't had any, just needed my ventolin.

I have been recording my peak flow too, and have a few times since last friday, done before and after ventolin to show that It's improving things.

I've tried to look for triggers. I know cur grass is one and I am on two hayfever medications but still get some hayfever symptoms. Other than that, I'm not sure.

Thank you again

EmmaF91Community Ambassador in reply to -Butterfly-

Sorry to hear your surgery isn't that great with asthma - I'd definitely advise talking to asthma UK nurses if this is the case! Try and see a different doc and take with you a record of peak flows, how often you use your blue etc so you can't dumb it down and try to explain how/if it's affecting your life (waking at night/early morning, can't walk to places/go out, can't do hills etc). You can also ask to try different antihistamines if you don't think the ones you're taking are controlling your allergies enough!

Do you have an asthma plan? If not definitely worth asking for one - it will give you guidance as to how your asthma is when to get more help etc and allows other medical professionals to see what you norm is (speaking as someone with a 'normal' PF of 630 when I 'should' be 350 at best it's useful to help docs differential asthma from panic attacks... multiple issues for me with this until I got a plan!).

Nope you don't have to be on deaths door to be having an attack! I've had multiple moderate attacks in the last few days, and am trying to avoid returning to prednisolone if I can (only been off steroids for 1 month after being on them more or less for 6 months! Problems of a severe asthmatic!). Having had multiple 'life-threatening' attacks in the past I tend towards thinking that I'm not as bad as I have been in the past and so ignore symptoms and avoid further treatment (steroids etc) until my GP insists (we have a very good relationship luckily!).

My fingers are crossed for you and I hope you get the right help/advice soon!


-Butterfly- in reply to EmmaF91

Thank you again for replying to me. You've given me some sound advice and I will hopefully not be waiting too long for an appointment.

I DID have an asthma plan, but I threw it away 😳 mainly because it wasn't worth the paper it was written on. For example, my best peak flow is 570 and the asthma nurse said my orange zone didn't start until 300!! She said she also has asthma and 300 is still acceptable. (Hence why i dont trust the nurse)

I can imagine it's difficult for you to know when you're starting to get worse when in comparison, you're symptoms aren't too serious (yet). I have actually noticed that my 'normal' at the minute would be probably prompted me to take my ventolin when I'm well. But with these 'attacks' on top of that, it doesn't seem so bad. It also seems I need more ventolin to get under control.

EmmaF91Community Ambassador in reply to -Butterfly-

Argh - hate it when docs compare you to 'gen pop' rather than you! I understand your frustration! The asthma plan should focus on you individually - so my best is 630, yellow starts at 470 (75%) and red at 315 (50%). Before I got sorted (i.e. No plan) I went to a&e with PF of 300 doc told me I was having a panic attack as no wheeze (I knew it was my asthma - my wheeze had disappeared) - had to 'fight' to go to majors who then went into melt down as I had been classed as 'life-threatening' (from 2 of their criteria) since walking through the door 2/3 hours earlier! With the plan docs now just follow the instructions (and know me a lot better!).

If you're hovering at about 1/2 your best (290) you need to get more help - to me your yellow zone should be around 430(ish) and you need to see your GP (possibly for prednisolone or new medication). Hope that helps give you the knowledge so you can write your own plan until you get to see a doc (you can print them off from the asthma uk website).

If you're 'normal' is with symptoms that would normally prompt you in to taking bluey it really doesn't sound controlled - controlled is rarely needing the blue in a week. Try to get it sorted now before it escalates further (been in that situation - it's not fun!)

Good luck on seeing you doc and if you're worried/having problems/need advice speak to the asthma uk nurses- they are lovely and really helpful!

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