When Asthma Symptoms Become Severe

An asthma attack can lead to a medical emergency if asthma symptoms are not controlled. Get medical help right away if you experience any one of the following signs.

  • Your peak flow is in the red zone. This means it is less than half of your usual reading, 50% or less than your personal best, OR if your doctor instructs you to seek help before you reach 50%.
  • You do not feel better within 15 to 20 minutes after using quick-relief medicine as prescribed. Most quick-relief medicines take effect within 10 minutes. Be sure to ask your doctor how long it takes your medicine to work.
  • You have a fever above 100° F.
  • Your lips or nails turn blue or gray.
  • You have chest pain.
  • Your breathing becomes very difficult. Your chest and neck pull in when you breathe, you hunch over, and breathing is a struggle.
  • You are having difficulty talking.
  • You are unable to walk.

Written by Karen Serrano, MD

Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008