Decision to seek emergency care

People with severe asthma have asthma symptoms most of the time. The disease causes frequent flare ups or attacks that require oral steroids and may cause severe airway limitation causing constant shortness of breath. [Severe asthma toolkit] People with severe asthma that is resistant to treatment have frequent hospitalisations sometimes requiring intensive care management (Chung et al. 2014).

People we talked to spoke about what they would do when they just couldn’t breathe, the timing of deciding that an ambulance and hospital treatment were needed, and how quickly the ambulance responded. Some people made their own way to the hospital as they found the ambulance trip distressing. Others didn’t remember too much of what happened after getting in the ambulance.

John G noted that someone else might have to call the ambulance.

Patsy has little recollection of events.

Mick doesn’t like ambulances.

A common theme was that people with severe asthma didn’t want to seem foolish or waste people’s time, and so left it till the last minute to call an ambulance or head to hospital. Often on arrival doctors told them that they should have come in earlier. Some people needed other family members to take the decision out of their hands and tell them it’s time to go.

Marg has delayed seeking attention several times.

Kim is happy having the security of being able to phone the ambulance.


  1. Chung KF ET AL. International ERS/ATS guidelines on definition, evaluation and treatment of severe asthma. Eur Respir J. 2014 Feb; 43(2):343-73