When to Ring 999

As a severe asthmatic it is not always easy to know when seek medical advice and ring 999. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes less so. There are always good indicators as to when help is needed, following your asthma action plan is always a good start.










If you are in distress and struggling, you are showing your usual symptoms, your inhalers or nebs aren’t working, your peak flow is down, your oxygen levels are low and you are struggling to complete sentences it is obvious that you need to make the call.


The problems come though when you are struggling and displaying your usual symptoms but the sats don’t match up with how you feel. Nobody likes to ring for ambulance or go to hospital if it isn’t necessary, especially when your sats suggest that there is nothing or little wrong with you. The fear of having to convince a paramedic, doctor or nurse that you are unwell and that it is asthma is not nice. The look on their faces doubting that there is nothing wrong with you or that you are having a panic or anxiety attack and telling you to calm down and breathe. Then of course once they accept that you are unwell there is the likelihood of a length admission as a reward. It’s no wonder we don’t like making that call!


I like many other severe asthmatics don’t always have very low sats but I know my condition and despite not always showing typical asthma symptoms (I don’t always wheeze) I know when I am not well. If and when I make the call I always try to ensure that my wife is with me, at least there is somebody to argue your corner if necessary. I also carry a small medical wallet with me which states my condition, details my asthma action plan, symptoms, other notes, medical contacts, emergency treatment procedure and medication. It does help and with the odd exception they will read it and beleive the details.


A couple of the cards in my medical wallet

Common sense always says if in doubt you should ring and of course you should. Don’t leave things until the last minute by which stage your condition could be a lot worse.

One of the best bits of advice that I was given is “if you are unwell enough to consider ringing for an ambulance or you need to ask somebody else if they think that you should ring for one, then the likelihood is that you need one!”

Trust yourself and your knowledge of your condition and your body and make that call, sats are there as a guide, don’t be fobbed off by somebody in A&E, the chances are that the doctor or nurse dealing with you when you first seek medical attention are not asthma experts.

The following is advice taken from the Asthma UK website


In an Asthma UK survey, nearly half of people with severe asthma told us they’d been to A&E with their asthma more than 10 times, with a further quarter having been three or more times. But even if you go to the same hospital every time and know some of the staff, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the treatment you need straight away.

Four things you can do to get the treatment you need in A&E

“A&E staff are trained to deal with all kinds of medical emergencies and follow very clear treatment guidelines when someone comes in with an asthma attack,” says Dr Andrew Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP. “But everyone’s asthma is different and responses to treatment vary. If you have severe asthma, you’ve probably had lots of asthma attacks and have experience of which treatment works for you. The doctors in A&E don’t know you as well as you do, so give them as much information as you can to help them find the best treatment for you sooner rather than later.”

So what’s the best way to explain what works for you to the different healthcare professionals in A&E? Andrew suggests trying these tips:

Call 999 rather than getting someone to drive you to hospital. You’ll receive treatment quicker, before you even get to hospital.
At your next appointment with your GP or asthma specialist, ask them to write you an emergency action plan explaining what your symptoms are like during an asthma attack and which treatment works best for you. Always keep a couple of copies of this plan with you (or take a photo of it on your phone) so you can hand it over when you get to A&E.

Say something like: “I’m not a normal case, I have severe asthma and the usual emergency treatments don’t work for me. This emergency action plan tells you what I need.”

Keep a pen and paper handy so you can communicate even if your asthma symptoms stop you from speaking. Or use your phone to text.

Make sure you’re prepared for a trip to A&E
Preparing in advance for an asthma attack will help you feel more confident and relaxed, and help the people around you feel more confident about helping you, too.
Always be prepared for an emergency, even if you feel you’ve found the right combination of medicines to treat your severe asthma and you haven’t been to A&E for a while. This means knowing what to do in an asthma attack and making sure the people around you know what to do, too.

Share your written asthma action plan with your family, close friends and colleagues, or in any situation where your asthma symptoms might be triggered, such as at the gym or on a plane. And make sure they’ll be able to find one quickly if they need to – keep a copy of your action plan with a list of all your medications in an obvious place so that you (or a paramedic or friend) can grab it in an emergency.

Never delay seeking urgent help because you’re worried about making a fuss or you’re fed up of going to hospital. Getting emergency treatment quickly can make the difference between life and death with asthma attacks. Tragically, three people in the UK die from an asthma attack every day, with nearly half of those (45 per cent) dying before they’ve received emergency medical care.

If you’re taking steroids in the long-term, keep your steroid treatment card with you at all times. Anyone taking oral steroids or a high dose of inhaled steroids for more than three weeks should be given a steroid treatment card with the details of your dose and your condition(s) so the doctors in A&E can plan your treatment.

For further advice and information visit the Asthma UK website.

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