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Acute Severe Asthma

Acute severe asthma is a sudden severe asthma that doesn't respond well to medicines.

It is life threatening. If you think someone has acute severe asthma, call right away. Treatment takes place in the emergency room and the hospital. But early treatment by first responders can be lifesaving.


Anyone with asthma can have an acute severe flare-up. Causes include:

  • Infections, such as a cold or sinus infection

  • Severe allergic reactions

  • Inhaling irritants

  • Not taking prescribed medicine

  • Exercise


The symptoms of acute severe flare-ups often happen over hours or days. But they can come on faster. They include:

  • Worsening trouble breathing and wheezing

  • Fast breathing

  • Worsening cough and chest tightness

  • Can breathe only when sitting up

  • Trouble walking and talking

  • Sweating

  • Fast heart rate

  • Confusion or irritability, especially in children

Preventing a severe flare-up

To help prevent acute severe flare-ups be sure to:

  • Identify and stay away from those things that cause flare-ups.

  • Try to stay away from people who are sick. .

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider about vaccines you should get.

  • If you have severe allergies, talk with your provider about seeing an allergist.

  • If you smoke, get help to quit. Stay away from secondhand smoke, too.

  • Take asthma medicines as directed by your healthcare provider. This is important for your long-term control medicines, even if you feel like your asthma is under control. 

  • If exercise is a trigger, make sure you use your quick-relief medicine before you are active. Keep an inhaler in your purse, gym bag, or backpack.

  • Get treatment fast when your symptoms don't respond to your quick-relief or rescue asthma medicines.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: John Hanrahan MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2018
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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