How to treat an asthma emergency

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is an asthma emergency?

An asthma emergency is potentially life-threatening.

Most people who suffer asthma attacks are aware of their asthma and should have an action plan and medication. They may wear a medical alert device.

In an emergency, or if a patient does not have their own reliever, use another person’s reliever (if permitted under local state or territory regulations), or one from a first aid kit.

If the patient is having difficulty breathing but has not previously had an asthma attack, follow what to do.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

Signs and Symptoms

Mild to moderate asthma attack

  • Increasingly soft to loud wheeze
  • Persistent cough
  • Minor to obvious difficulty breathing

Asthma emergency

  • Symptoms get worse very quickly
  • Little or no relief from inhaler
  • Severe shortness of breath, focused only on breathing
  • Unable to speak normally
  • Pallor, sweating
  • Progressively more anxious, subdued or panicky
  • Blue lips, face, earlobes, fingernails
  • Loss of consciousness

What to do




Help the patient to sit down in a comfortable position.


Reassure and stay with the patient.


If requested, help the patient to follow their action plan.


How to give medication (4:4:4)

Give 4 separate puffs of blue/grey reliever puffer:

  • Shake the inhaler
  • Give 1 puff
  • Take 4 breaths
  • Repeat until 4 puffs have been given.

Wait 4 minutes.


If there is no improvement, give 4 more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever as above.


If the patient still cannot breath normally, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.


Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes (as above) until medical aid arrives.



Asthma emergency fact sheet

DRSABCD poster

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