Asthma attack vs exaccerbation - Asthma UK communi...

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Asthma attack vs exaccerbation

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Hi, I’m new here. I was just wondering if anyone could clarify the difference between an asthma attack and an asthma exaccerbation. I’ve had asthma since I was a child (now 36) but to my knowledge I’ve never had an asthma attack.

The past couple of years I’ve been fine with just the odd puff of ventolin and no other symptoms but I got a chest infection last week and found that couldn’t stop coughing and weirdly breathing out was harder than breathing in. I was already on antibiotics but my nurse gave me a prescription of steroid tablets and I started back on a steroid inhaler (clenil).

There was one occasion last week where I physically could not stop coughing. I actually physically sick because I was coughing so much but ventolin helped. Is that classed as an attack or is it an exaccerbation or are they both the same thing? I’m going to ask my nurse when I see her for a follow up in a month but I was curious.

Thank you in advance!

5 Replies

From my understanding they are the same thing, hope your feeling better now xx

1 like

Very similar but an attack more normally clears up after use of ventloin and rest ..exacerbation tends to last a few days or even weeks sometimes with no infection.

Hope everything will be ok x

in reply to paula66

Yes I completely agree with you. I have asthma attacks where I wake from deep sleep gasping for air. With the use of my ventolin this passes in a few minutes though it is scary when it happens. I have fortunately never had an exacerbation.

If you can't sort out your breathing over time and with your ventolin then don't be afraid to see a doctor or call an ambulance as serious exacerbations can be life threatening. x


Hi Twins72

We generally say, you're having an asthma attack if any of the following happens:

Your reliever isn't helping or lasting over four hours

Your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)

You're too breathless or it's difficult to speak, eat or sleep

Your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly.

Asthma attacks are the result of symptoms getting gradually worse over a few days that you may not have noticed. Needing to use your reliever inhaler more than three times a week may suggest that your asthma is not as well managed as it could be.

If you think it's symptoms getting worse then this page explains what signs to look for:

Hope that helps,



I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 29 and like you didn't need my inhalers much. When I was 38 I developed very bad breathing problems and was in hospital for 12 days. I'm now nearly 73 and use my steroid inhaler at least twice a day. Last November when I was in hospital having my appendix out a doctor who saw that I also have permanent atria fibrillation asked why I wasn't on a beta blocker. I mentioned asthma, and he basically said that wouldn't be a problem and put me on a beta blocker. It was brilliant for the first 7 weeks; my heart rate fell from 90 beats a minute to 60, but I noticed I had a runny nose which was something I could live with.

Then I started with itchy rashes over my body. A doctor agreed they could have been caused by the beta blocker. Even though I had stopped taking the beta blocker at the time I had a totally dry asthma attack. By "dry" there was restriction in breathing and chest pains but not the usual infection which I get when asthma causes a problem. I was in a Pharmacy at the time. They called in the doctors next door, which was about to close for the day. A doctor saw me and an ambulance was called. I spent 2 days in hospital, where nebulisers and prednisolone restored by breathing. The beta-blocker's patient leaflet said it could cause an exacerbation of asthma, which I believe is what I had. Fortunately I am generally well and active, despite asthma, atrial fibrillation and lymphoedema.


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