Patient & Family Education Materials

Start over with a New Search

Dealing With an Asthma Flare-Up

Article Translations: (Spanish)

What's an Asthma Flare-Up?

If you have asthma, you probably know about flare-ups. Triggers like allergies, a cold, cigarette smoke, exercise, or even cold air can cause a flare-up and make asthma symptoms worse.

What Happens During an Asthma Flare-Up?

During a flare-up, you might have:

  • trouble breathing
  • a tight chest
  • a whistling sound when you breathe (wheezing)
  • a cough

Flare-ups happen when the airways in the lungs get more irritated and swollen than usual. Your lungs might make a sticky mucus, which clogs the airways. The muscles around the airways will also tighten up, making them really narrow. This clogging and narrowing make it tough to pull air in and push air out.

Some flare-ups are serious, but others are mild. Flare-ups can happen suddenly. They also can build up over time, especially if you haven't been taking your asthma medicine.

How Can I Spot an Asthma Flare-Up?

After you've had a few flare-ups, you may notice that you feel a certain way when one is coming on. Do you have a tight chest or an itchy throat? Are you feeling tired? Do you have a cough, even though you don't have a cold?

How Do I Handle an Asthma Flare-Up?

If you feel like a flare-up is about to happen, stay calm. Let people around you know what's going on. Then remember your asthma action plan. That's the written plan that tells you what to do next.

Stay calm and focus on what your asthma action plan says. Your doctor probably told you to use your quick-relief medicine, so do that first.

If you can figure out what triggered your symptoms (like a pet or someone who is smoking), remove the trigger — or yourself — from the area. Sometimes that's all you need to get your asthma under control again.

If a flare-up is more severe, you might need to get help.

When Should I Go to the ER?

Don't be embarrassed to get medical help if you think you need it. These situations call for emergency care:

  • You take your asthma medicine and your flare-up doesn't get any better.
  • You feel a little better after taking your medicine, but your symptoms come back quickly.
  • You have frequent wheezing, a lasting cough, or chest pain.
  • Your lips and fingernails are bluish or grayish.
  • You have trouble breathing, talking, or walking.

How Can I Prevent Asthma Flare-Ups?

Asthma flare-ups can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from happening. To do that:

  • Take asthma medicines as directed. If your doctor prescribed a long-term control medicine, take it each day, even when you feel fine. It needs to be taken exactly as your doctor tells you to keep protecting you against flare-ups.
  • Get a flu shot each year before flu season starts.
  • Avoid triggers. By knowing and avoiding your triggers, you might be able to prevent some flare-ups.

It's important to plan ahead and know what to do. Work with your doctor to build and update your asthma action plan. That way, you know what to do if a flare-up happens and you're in control if things get serious.

Back To Top

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2017 KidsHealth ® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com