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4 Things You Can Do if You Have an Asthma Attack Without Your Inhaler

Let’s get one thing straight upfront — if you have asthma, you should always have your inhaler within reach. The asthma medication in the inhaler works quickly to help you breathe, and it could save your life.

But, if something happens and your inhaler isn’t accessible when you have an asthma attack, it’s good to know some options for treating it. Puneet Shroff, MD, an allergist and immunologist with Banner Health in Tucson, AZ, shared some strategies that can help. 

1. Try to regulate your breathing

“When you’re having difficulty breathing, that can provoke anxiety,” Dr. Shroff said. “You can start to feel that overwhelming sense of dread, and anxiety can take over.” Deep breathing can help alleviate anxious feelings. Try to breathe slowly and calmly. Breathing through your nose may help keep the air warm and humid, which can also help get your asthma under control. 

Talk to your doctor about breathing techniques that can help, and practice them before you have an asthma attack, so they’re easier to try if you do.

2. Sit in a chair

You want to get as much air into your lungs as possible. You might feel as though bending over or lying down will help but sitting upright gives your lungs more room to open. Try to keep your upper body and shoulders relaxed. A supportive chair you can sit in comfortably may also help.

3. Avoid triggers

It’s always a good idea to steer clear of things that might trigger an asthma attack, and it’s especially crucial if you’re having an attack. Some common triggers are:

  • Cold air — move inside if possible
  • Smoke from cigarettes or fires
  • Pollen, dust mites or pet dander

4. If you think your asthma attack is life-threatening, call your doctor or 911

“I’m not sure there’s enough evidence published that proves you can always stop your asthma attack,” Dr. Shroff said. If your symptoms aren’t getting better, call your health care provider or seek medical attention. 

Call 911 if:

  • Your symptoms are getting worse, or you can’t catch your breath.
  • You feel like you might pass out.
  • You’re feeling faint, lightheaded or confused.
  • Your blood oxygen level is below 92% or lower than usual and isn’t improving.
  • You’re prone to severe flares or hospitalization for your asthma.

A new option for your inhaler

If it’s hard for you to keep your inhaler nearby because you use both a rescue inhaler and a maintenance inhaler, newer guidelines could help. This is called single maintenance as rescue therapy (SMART). It allows you to use the same inhaler for rescue therapy and maintenance therapy. 

“There’s nothing wrong with having two inhalers, but this approach makes it simpler for people,” Dr. Shroff said. “You can have your maintenance inhaler in your purse or bag and use it as a rescue inhaler. Evidence shows it can prevent asthma exacerbations.” Of course, you should talk to your doctor to see if making this change is right for you.

Reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack

Preventing asthma attacks is better than treating one, and you can take steps to reduce your odds:

  • Use your maintenance inhaler as directed. If your doctor recommends it, use your inhaler to pretreat before activity or exposure.
  • If warm or cold air triggers your asthma, try to plan outdoor activities accordingly and travel to limit your exposure.
  • If you’re in cold air, use deep breathing exercises to warm and moisten the air.
  • Wear a mask if you know you’ll be exposed to dust, pollen or solvents.
  • Monitor the air quality and limit outdoor activity on days and times when the quality is poor.
  • Consider allergy testing if allergens are triggering your asthma.
  • Exercise to help improve lung endurance. Consult with your physician about how to do this safely.

The bottom line

If you have asthma, you should always have your inhaler close by in case you have an attack. But if you don’t, there are steps you can take that might help alleviate your symptoms. And you can minimize the likelihood that you’ll have an asthma attack. 

Need help managing asthma symptoms?

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