Acute Severe Asthma

Acute severe asthma was previously called status asthmaticus. It is a sudden severe asthma that does not respond to medications.

It is a life-threatening emergency. If you think someone has acute severe asthma, call 911 right away. Treatment takes place in the emergency department and the hospital.


Anyone with asthma can have an acute severe flare-up. Causes include:

  • Respiratory infections, like a cold or sinus infection

  • Severe allergic reactions

  • Inhaling irritants

  • Not taking prescribed medication

  • Exercise


The symptoms of acute severe flare-ups can occur over hours or days. They include:

  • Worsening difficulty breathing and wheezing

  • Fast breathing

  • Worsening cough and chest tightness

  • Can breathe only when sitting up

  • Trouble walking and talking

  • Sweating

  • Fast heart rate

  • Confusion or irritability

Preventing a severe flare-up

To help avoid  acute severe flare-ups be sure to:

  • Identify and avoid those things that cause flare-ups or triggers.

  • Try to stay away from people who are sick with respiratory infections. Wash your hands often. And, talk with your health care provider about vaccines you should have.

  • If you have severe allergies, talk with your health care provider about seeing an allergist.

  • Take asthma medications as recommended by your health care provider.

  • If exercise is a trigger, make sure you use your quick-relief medication before you are active. Keep an inhaler in your purse, gym bag, or back pack.

  • Get medical treatment as soon as possible when your symptoms don't respond to your asthma medications.

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