Calling an ambulance for an asthma attack

Find out what happens when you call an ambulance for an asthma attack and how the ambulance team can treat your attack while you’re on your way to the hospital.

Calling 999 for an ambulance

An asthma attack is an emergency

If your reliever inhaler is not helping, call 999 for an ambulance and tell them you’re having an asthma attack.

Even if you feel able to get to A&E yourself, you should call 999 for an ambulance so you can be treated on the way to hospital.

See our asthma attack advice.

What happens when you call 999

When you call 999 for an ambulance, you'll speak to someone (the call handler) who can assess how urgently you need help and make sure you get help quickly.

The call-handler will ask you, or the person calling for you:  

  • Why you need an ambulance. Let the call handler know if you cannot breathe and your reliever inhaler is not working or you’re having an asthma attack.  
  • Your address, postcode, and the number you’re calling from. You could keep this information written down somewhere so it’s easier for anyone calling for you who may not know it.  
  • Any other information that can help them, like your age, your gender and medical history.

What will the call-handler do?

An asthma attack is considered high priority which means the call handler will try to get someone to you as quickly as possible.

  • They may send out an ambulance if you need to be taken to hospital.  
  • They can also send a rapid response vehicle like a motorbike, so you can get quick treatment from a paramedic first.

If you’re deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired

You can text from your mobile. To use the text service, you must register your mobile phone on the emergency SMS website.

Waiting for the ambulance

If you’ve got someone with you, here are some helpful things they can do while you’re waiting for the ambulance. turn on any outside lights if it’s dark, so it’s easy for ambulance staff see your house number.

  • collect any medicines or medical details (such as your asthma action plan or the name of your GP). This is helpful for both the ambulance staff and staff in A&E (Accident & Emergency)

  • make sure any pets are safely shut in another room

  • have your phone with you, or the numbers of people you may need to call, including next of kin. 

If the ambulance is taking a long time

Only call back if your condition worsens, your location changes, or you no longer need an ambulance.  

Do not call back to see how long the ambulance will be because this can prevent call-handlers dealing with other emergencies.

The ambulance crew will be doing its best to get to you as soon as possible. 

What happens when help arrives?

When the paramedics or ambulance crew arrive, the first thing they will do is check how you are. They may listen to your chest, measure oxygen levels, and test your peak flow.

If you’re having an asthma attack, they can start treating you straight away with:

  • oxygen through a mask.
  • medicine that opens up the airways (bronchodilators) with an inhaler and spacer. They may need to use a nebuliser.

Once you’re in the ambulance, the crew can continue to treat you on the way to hospital.

If you do not need to go to hospital

If the crew can control your symptoms easily, they may treat you where you are. You may not need to go to hospital.  

If this happens, make sure you get a follow-up appointment with your GP or asthma nurse the same day or as soon as possible after your asthma attack to lower your risk of another attack.

Arriving at hospital

Once you get to the hospital, staff in the A&E department will look after you.

They will assess you to see what help you need.  

Everyone is assessed in the same way, whether they arrive on their own or by ambulance, to make sure that people who need the most urgent care are seen first.

Read more about A&E and staying in hospital.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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