Acute Severe Asthma

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

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, but early treatment by first responders can be lifesaving.


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 medicine

  • Exercise


The symptoms of acute severe flare-ups typically happen over hours or days, but can come on faster than that. 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, especially in children

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. Talk with your healthcare provider about vaccines you should have.

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

  • Take asthma medicines as recommended by your healthcare provider, especially your long-term control medicines, even if you feel like your asthma is under control. 

  • If exercise is a trigger, make sure you use your quick-relief medicine 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 quick-relief or rescue asthma medicines.