Medically Approved

Asthma attack without an inhaler: 5 things to do now

Without an Inhaler

Optum Perks Author

By Optum Perks Author

What is an asthma attack?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs. During an asthma attack, the airways become narrower than normal and can cause difficulty breathing.


The severity of an asthma attack can range from mild to very serious. Some asthma attacks may require prompt medical attention.

The preferred way of treating an asthma attack is to use a rescue inhaler, which contains medication that expands your airways.

But what if you’re having an asthma attack and don’t have your rescue inhaler available? There are several things that you can do while you wait for your symptoms to subside or for medical attention. Read on to learn more.

1. Sit up straight

Sitting upright can help keep your airways open. Be sure to avoid lying down while you’re having an asthma attack, as this can make symptoms worse.

2. Remain calm

Try to remain as calm as you can while you’re having an asthma attack. Panic and stress can worsen your symptoms.


While you wait for your symptoms to subside or for medical attention to arrive, it may be helpful to turn on the TV or play some music to help keep yourself calm.

3. Steady your breathing

Try to take slow, steady breaths during your attack.


Additionally, some breathing exercises may also help reduce asthma symptoms. Some examples include:

  • The Buteyko breathing technique, which involves breathing slowly through your nose as opposed to your mouth
  • The Papworth method, which entails using your diaphragm and nose to breathe in a particular way
  • Yoga breathing techniques, which can include deep breathing or control of posture

A 2013 review of studies found that in some cases, breathing exercises were associated with improvement of asthma symptoms.

4. Move away from triggers

The presence of asthma triggers won’t only cause an attack, they can also make your symptoms worse. Be sure to try to get away from things that may be triggering your asthma attack.


For example, if you’re in an area where people are smoking cigarettes, you should move away promptly.

It’s also important to know your triggers. Common triggers include:

  • Allergens, such as pet dander, pollen, or certain foods
  • exercise
  • Irritants, such as tobacco smoke or pollution
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Some medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or beta-blockers
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu, or mycoplasma
  • Breathing in cold, dry air

5. Call 911

You should always be sure to seek immediate emergency medical treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms during an asthma attack:

  • Your symptoms continue to get worse even after treatment
  • You can’t speak except in short words or phrases
  • You’re straining your chest muscles in an effort to breathe
  • Your shortness of breath or wheezing is severe, particularly in the early morning or late-night hours
  • You begin to feel drowsy or tired
  • Your lips or face appear blue when you’re not coughing

Pharmacist wearing a head scarf organizing medication
Save up to 80% on your medications

Get free coupons from Optum Perks — accepted at pharmacies nationwide.

Asthma attack symptoms

Symptoms that indicate that you could be experiencing an asthma attack include:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Tightness or pain in your chest
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Lower than normal peak flow score, if you use a peak flow meter


The best way to prevent having an asthma attack is to make sure that your asthma is under control. People with asthma typically use two types of medication:

  • Long-term. This involves medication that you take every day to control airway inflammation and prevent asthma attacks. These medications can include inhaled corticosteroids and leukotriene modifiers.
  • Quick-relief. This is rescue medication that you take for short-term relief of asthma symptoms. These medications are referred to as bronchodilators and work to open your airways.

You should also work with your doctor to develop a personalized asthma action plan. This can help you to better understand and control your asthma. An asthma action plan includes:

  • Your asthma triggers and how to avoid them
  • How and when to take your medications, both for symptom control and for quick relief
  • Indicators of when you’re controlling your asthma well and when you need to seek emergency medical attention

Your family and those close to you should have a copy of your asthma action plan so that they’ll know what to do if you have an asthma attack. Additionally, it may be helpful to keep it on your phone as well in case you need to reference it quickly.

The bottom line

If you’re having an asthma attack and don’t have your rescue inhaler on hand, there are several things that you can do, such as sitting upright, staying calm, and steadying your breathing.


It’s important to remember that asthma attacks can be very serious and require emergency medical attention. If you’re experiencing the symptoms of a serious asthma attack, such as severe shortness of breath, severe wheezing, or difficulty speaking, you should call 911.