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HealthInfo Canterbury

Asthma emergency

Asthma can sometimes be life-threatening. The information on this page tells you what to look for and what to do if there's an asthma emergency.

Signs of life-threatening asthma

Asthma is life-threatening if someone:

What to do

Don't panic. Keep the person calm and comfortable while acting confidently and without delay.

Follow the four-step asthma emergency plan.


Sit the person upright. Loosen any tight clothing. Stay with the person. Remain calm and reassuring.


Give six puffs of a reliever, usually a blue inhaler (Respigen, Salamol or Ventolin). Ideally give one puff at a time using a spacer. After each puff ask the person to take six breaths from the spacer.


Wait 6 minutes.



If there is little or no improvement, call an ambulance by dialling 111. Continuously repeat steps 2 and 3 while waiting for the ambulance. Remember, an ambulance can provide treatment and is a much safer form of transport than a car.

If you've had an asthma emergency, consider asking your doctor to help you complete an asthma attack recovery plan.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by community respiratory physician, Canterbury DHB. Page created May 2017. Last updated November 2019.


Page reference: 327463

Review key: HIASA-39947