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When my inhaler didn't work, I panicked

Julia had a bad asthma attack which caught her by surprise. Quick thinking and following our asthma attack information meant she was able to calm down and feel more in control.

Julia waiting for a refill of her rescue inhaler

I have asthma that’s triggered by exercise and allergies. I’ve been living with it since I was a kid, and I’ve generally learned how to manage it. 

Growing up, I had to make sure I had my reliever inhaler nearby before I played any sport. I had to use it when I came across an allergen like dust or dander, and sometimes when I moved from a hot room to a cold room. But my asthma was mostly under control. 

When I was in my 20s, I moved to England from the US, and things improved even more thanks to my new asthma nurse - I'd never had one before! The steroid preventer inhaler she gave me improved my symptoms quite a bit so I don’t have too much trouble with my asthma most days. And she said I'd have a review with her every year to see how I was controlling my asthma.

It didn't feel like previous attacks

But one day, something unusual happened. 

I’d been under the weather, recovering from flu. I was at home, resting on the sofa, when suddenly I felt I couldn’t breathe properly. 

I noticed every breath took a lot more energy and effort than it should. But it didn’t feel like the asthma attacks I’ve had before: I wasn’t wheezing - I was coughing, and feeling breathless. It was horrible. 

I realised I should use my reliever inhaler. But after using it, my symptoms got dramatically worse.

This took me by surprise and really panicked me. Normally after I use my reliever inhaler, 5 minutes later I feel fine. But not this time.

I started to wheeze badly, and feel dizzy and tingly. Because I was panicking, I was getting even less oxygen. 

I took another dose of my inhaler, thinking, surely this would help. But it didn’t. I couldn’t work out what was going wrong.

I took another dose of my inhaler, thinking, surely this would help. But it didn’t. I couldn’t work out what was going wrong.

I was scared and didn’t know what to do. Everything I was trying wasn’t working, like getting some fresh air outside or breathing in steam. I had to try something else. 

I went online

I decided to look online. I’d seen some leaflets from the British Lung Foundation at my GPs, so I looked at the asthma section on the BLF website on my phone.

I’m so glad I did. The information told me to take a puff of my reliever inhaler every 60 seconds for up to 10 puffs and see how it goes. If that didn’t work, I should ring 999. 

Although it didn’t stop my asthma attack, knowing what I had to do made a huge difference. I was panicking a lot, because my coughing and wheezing was so horrible. 

We called an ambulance. And because I knew I was doing the right things, I calmed down. Having clear instructions helped me keep my head on, because I felt more in control. 

After my attack

After my attack, I realised I’d been told how to cope with this kind of asthma attack a long time ago. I had known what to do all along. But on the spur of the moment, with everything happening, I had freaked out and forgotten everything I'd been told. 

Having clear advice and instructions to follow helped me keep my head on during my asthma attack, because I felt more in control. 

If I hadn’t found the BLF’s asthma attack advice, I don’t know what would have happened. We might have waited longer to call 999, and I might have been in a much worse state when they finally arrived. 

Having that information available to me was a lifesaver and kept me calm. It was such a relief to find it and know I was following the best course of action. 

I was unprepared – get a plan

Remember to follow advice you've been given for an attack – everyone should have their own personal asthma plan.

I didn’t realise how unprepared I was. Now I know how important it is to be prepared and informed. I’m going to talk to my nurse about having my own written asthma plan and I’ll keep a photo of it on my phone and send a photo to my husband, so we‘ll all know what to do if it happens again.

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29 January 2019