What's an Asthma Emergency?

As a parent of a child with asthma, you want to avoid the emergency room (ER) as much as possible. But it's also important to know when going to the ER is the right choice.

Sometimes, kids with asthma need medical care very quickly. If any of these symptoms happen, see your doctor immediately, go to the ER, or call an ambulance:

  • Your child has constant wheezing.
  • Your child uses quick-relief medicines (also called rescue or fast-acting medicines) repeatedly for severe flare-up symptoms that don't go away after 15–20 minutes or return again quickly.
  • Your child has a lasting cough that doesn't respond to inhaled quick-relief medicine.
  • There are changes in your child's color, like bluish or gray lips and fingernails.
  • Your child has trouble talking and can't speak in full sentences.
  • The areas below the ribs, between the ribs, and in the neck visibly pull in during inhalation (called retractions).

How Can ER Visits Be Less Stressful?

Planning can make trips to the ER less stressful for you and your child. Here are some tips to try:

  • Know the location of your closest ER. If there's a children's hospital ER nearby, go there and have the address and phone number handy (written on the asthma action plan, for instance).
  • If you have other kids, try to make arrangements with a relative or other caregiver who can take them in an emergency. But don't let the lack of a babysitter delay your trip to the ER. Someone can always come to the hospital later to pick up your other kids.
  • Take a copy of your child's asthma action plan or a note with the names and dosages of any medicines your child takes to share with the medical staff at the ER.
  • Try to keep a written record of when your child uses a rescue inhaler.

How Can We Avoid a Trip to the ER?

Well-managed asthma is rarely life-threatening. Taking asthma medicines as prescribed can help prevent severe asthma flare-ups and the need for emergency care.

Be sure to schedule and keep follow-up visits with your doctor and pulmonologist to track your child's asthma.

Asthma Action Plan button

It's important to monitor your child's asthma using the written asthma action plan your doctor helps you create. This plan will outline day-to-day treatment, symptoms to watch for, and step-by-step instructions to follow during a flare-up.

Taking asthma seriously and working to manage it can make it less likely that your child will need to go to the ER.

What Else Should I Know?

Many kids go to the ER simply because they didn't have their quick-relief medicines handy. Your child should have this medicine available at all times, including at school, at sporting events, and while traveling.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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