Asthma was one of the top 20 diagnoses presenting to emergency departments in Australia in 2016/7. In this topic summary, people with severe asthma tell of their experiences once they had decided to seek treatment for an acute episode. Usually this involved turning up at a hospital emergency department. For most of the people in our study hospital admission followed the emergency department presentation.

However, not all people with severe asthma had been hospitalised.

The quick decisive action taken in the emergency department helped to reassure Marea.

For some people with severe asthma their experience was dismissed at emergency triage and other stages of the hospitalisation process. People with severe asthma explained that they know their disease and their signs and symptoms may not necessarily be what medical staff learn or read in text books.

Kim is frustrated that the doctors don’t read her lengthy file.

It is known that a small proportion of people with severe exacerbations of asthma either stop breathing or are at risk of stopping breathing, which is life-threatening and needs artificial mechanical ventilation via a breathing tube attached to a ventilator. People we talked to explained that some treatments could only be accessed in hospitals, such as intravenous infusions. As not all services are available at all hospitals, some people in the study had to be transferred from the original hospital they presented to for ongoing care.

Jemma has been hospitalised many times for severe asthma and has been ventilated.

In terms of the overall hospital experience itself, there was a range of experiences ‑ some people simply didn’t like being there, whilst others appreciated the “safety net” if anything went wrong.

Tony was happy with the nursing care he received but just hates hospitals.

Frank feels safe in the hospital.

Karen was allowed to manage her own medications.

At times Monique did not see the staff as attentive or supportive, and with no treatment changes happening, why stay in the hospital?

Some people with severe asthma did not see the hospital as being helpful in their recovery. They mentioned the possibility of infection, as well as allergens such as cleaning agents and perfumes applied by the staff.

Jemma reacted to certain common items and ended up in a single room.

Some people in the study only experienced hospitals as outpatients, preferring to be managed at a clinic, but appreciated that the hospital was there ‘in case’.

Michael found the clinic to be a happy medium.

Jemma feels supported at the clinic.