What’s The Recovery Time After a Severe Asthma Attack?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that can range from mild to severe. Predicting the recovery time for a severe asthma attack can be challenging, because everyone's case is different. Typically, recovery time will take days to weeks, some of which may be spent in the hospital.

This article discusses how to identify a severe asthma attack, treatment options, and recovery times.

A hiker with asthma using her inhaler

 

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What Is a Severe Asthma Attack?

Severe asthma is asthma that does not respond well to typical asthma treatments.

The body's response to severe asthma involves inflammation and constriction of the bronchioles (the smallest branches of the lungs' bronchial airways that move air). This narrowing of the airways makes it difficult to breathe and can cause a distinct sound called wheezing.

Severe asthma is classified based on several factors, including what symptoms are present, whether the attack responds to medication, and how long the attack lasts.

Triggers of an Asthma Attack

Different things can trigger a severe asthma attack, including:

  • Upper respiratory tract infection
  • Pollen, dust mites, dander, or molds
  • Tobacco smoke or pollutants
  • Changing weather (heat, cold, humidity)
  • Physical activity, which can bring on exercise-induced asthma

Mild Asthma Attack

If you are experiencing a mild asthma attack, your symptoms are typically only present when you exert yourself and tend to subside when you rest. Wheezing may be absent or only faintly heard. You can talk normally and lay down to rest without difficulty breathing.

A mild asthma attack can be treated at home with rest and by identifying and eliminating the trigger of the attack.

Moderate Asthma Attack

If you are experiencing a moderate asthma attack, you will experience symptoms even when you are resting. You won't want to lie down flat because it makes it harder to breathe.

You may also have some difficulty speaking normally and may have audible wheezing. Lung retractions (an abnormal pulling or sucking in between the ribs caused by reduced air pressure in the chest) may be seen.

A moderate asthma attack usually requires the use of a rescue inhaler or other medication.

Severe Asthma Attack

A severe asthma attack will likely include some or all of the following:

  • Extreme difficulty breathing and shortness of breath even when resting
  • Inability to speak with the exception of single words
  • Loud wheezing or, in rare and extremely serious cases, wheezing is completely absent
  • Visible severe lung retractions
  • Decreased oxygen that may cause cyanosis (lips or fingers turn blue)

A severe asthma attack may require a visit to the emergency room for more advanced treatment.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Severe Asthma Attack?

The amount of time required to recover from a severe asthma attack is highly variable among people. Studies show that people who have other underlying health conditions tend to take longer to recover. One study suggests an average recovery time of 1.7 weeks.

Some individuals require supplemental oxygen after a severe asthma attack. Blood oxygen levels can be measured using a saturation monitor, and if your levels are below 90% (known as hypoxemia), you will need extra oxygen.

In addition to supplemental oxygen, a wide variety of medications may be used to decrease inflammation in the bronchioles and open the airways. These include inhaled or oral corticosteroids, such as Qvar (beclomethasone), Flovent HFA (fluticasone), EntocortEC (budesonide), and Asmanex (mometasone).

Who's More Likely to Require a Hospital Stay?

Depending on your individual circumstances, it can take days to weeks to recover from a severe asthma attack.

At this time, your healthcare provider is likely to perform pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to see how well your lungs are responding. A lower reading of FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in one second) is associated with a longer recovery time.

People who need higher levels of supplemental oxygen tend to be hospitalized for longer periods of time. You will likely need to be weaned off of oxygen before you are discharged home.

Other factors that may require a longer hospitalization include:

  • Chronic health conditions, such as poor underlying lung function, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), obesity, sleep apnea, chronic smoking, or heart conditions
  • Not adhering to your asthma medications
  • If you have a viral infection that triggered the attack, such as RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)or the flu
  • Older age

When to Seek Medical Help

You should seek medical help for an asthma attack if you experience any of the following:

  • You have had symptoms of a mild asthma attack for more than 24 hours, especially if you are using asthma medications.
  • You have a fever for more than three days.
  • You have a fever that disappears, only to return more than 24 hours later.

After recovery from a severe asthma attack at home or after hospitalization, it's recommended that you book an appointment with your healthcare provider to make sure your asthma action plan is adequate and you are not at risk for another attack.

You should call 911 or go to the emergency room if any of the following occurs:

  • Your breathing difficulty, including wheezing, continues to worsen despite using a rescue inhaler.
  • You cannot talk normally due to shortness of breath, and it does not immediately begin to subside with a rescue inhaler.
  • You have bluish skin on your lips, face, fingertips, or around the eyes from cyanosis.
  • You cannot stop coughing.
  • You have chest pain.
  • You are using rescue medications more frequently than once every four hours.
  • You have a fever over 104 degrees.
  • You are experiencing moderate or severe symptoms and you do not have a rescue inhaler.

If you experience worrisome symptoms that are not on this list, consult a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Symptoms Following a Severe Asthma Attack

Fatigue and stress are common symptoms after a severe asthma attack. You may become easily tired when you get up and move around. You may also find it difficult to sleep at night.

How to Recover From a Severe Asthma Attack

Some tips to recover from a severe asthma attack include:

  • Rest: Having a severe asthma attack can be scary and stressful. The stress response can result in fatigue. It takes time and rest for your body to recover.
  • Book a follow-up appointment: This is an opportunity to ensure that your asthma action plan is as up-to-date and effective as possible. Your healthcare provider can review the conditions that led to your asthma attack and adjust your medications or make suggestions that can help you to avoid future attacks.
  • Take medications as prescribed: Poor adherence to medications has been identified as a trigger for asthma attacks and a factor that leads to a more difficult recovery. If you have questions or concerns about your medications, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
  • Do not overexert yourself: You may find yourself becoming tired after even a small amount of exercise or movement. This is common after a severe asthma attack. Give it time and listen to your body.

Summary

The recovery time for a severe asthma attack varies and can take from days to weeks. It may also require hospitalization for supplemental oxygen. Recovery requires rest and follow-up care. Being in communication with your healthcare team and following their instructions will improve your recovery times.

A Word From Verywell

Suffering a severe asthma attack, especially one that requires hospitalization, can be an extremely frightening experience. Work with your healthcare team to develop an asthma treatment plan that can prevent severe asthma attacks. Also, talk to them about any trauma you may have following a severe asthma attack. Your healthcare team can provide you with resources, such as support groups, that help you recover in the healthiest way possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you stay calm during an asthma attack?

    Being prepared for an asthma attack is the key to remaining calm when one occurs. Make sure you know your asthma action plan and what to do. Talk to your healthcare provider about specific breathing exercises that may help in the event of an asthma attack.

  • When can you go back to work after an asthma attack?

    This depends on many factors, including what kind of work you do and what kind of activity it requires. In general, you can probably go back to work when you stop having symptoms like excessive fatigue and have been able to participate in normal activities at home. If you're unsure, talk to your healthcare provider.

  • Can you pass out from a severe asthma attack?

    Yes, it is possible to become unconscious during a severe asthma attack. This is a medical emergency that requires calling 911 or going to the emergency room.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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