Asthma Attack Without an Inhaler: 9 Potential Lifesavers

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Asthma Attack Without an Inhaler: 9 Steps That Could Save Your Life

Coffee pouring into a clay mug

Coffee and tea contain a chemical similar to the old asthma medicine theophylline. The amount may be too small to do much prevention, but they could be worth a try. (See step 7.)

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

I’ve never had a patient die of an asthma attack while I’m treating them, but a few have come close. I’ll never forget their desperate looks, their not being able to breath in enough air, and the relief that comes over them (and me) get when the attack is over.

Although asthma is a serious disease (over 3,000 asthmatics die in the U.S. each year), I see fewer and fewer people having severe attacks these days because of the array of excellent medications available. But what would you do if you had an asthma attack without an inhaler? What steps could you take to prevent or treat one when all the prescription medicines were gone?

Sonya asked it another way on my Facebook page: “Are there any natural cures for asthma flair-ups?”

The short answer is there’s nothing natural that works as well as prescription medicines for asthma. Over-the-counter Primatene Mist used to be a sort-of alternative—fraught with side effects—but it’s off the market.

Even so, there are a few things that may help. Here are nine suggestions for how to prevent or treat an asthma attack without an inhaler. You need to start preparing now.

1. Know what triggers your attacks.

  • Smoking is a given. You must stop, and avoid secondhand smoke if at all possible.
  • Allergies are another big trigger. Find what you’re allergic to and avoid it. Allergy medicines may help prevent an attack. One that’s often overlooked but effective is the over-the-counter nasal inhaler chromolyn sodium (NasalCrom). Oral antihistamines can also help, but they can dry up the mucus-membrane lining of your lungs too much and make some people’s asthma worse. As always, check with your doctor.
  • Exercise is a common trigger. Warming up slowly may help.
  • Emotional stress can be a trigger. Learn relaxation techniques.

2. Learn breathing techniques. There’s promising evidence from some small studies that proper-breathing exercises may help prevent attacks. These techniques take days to weeks to learn properly. Check with your doctor for guidance. The three generally recommended are:

  • Buteyko technique
  • Papworth method
  • Pranayama yoga breathing

3. Maintain a healthy weight, and exercise regularly. Both have been shown to help prevent attacks.

4. Eat fruits and vegetables for antioxidants that can boast your immunity, and fish or fish oil for its anti-inflammatory effect.

5. Drink plenty of water to keep the lining of your lungs hydrated.

6. Cover your nose and mouth around smoke and other air irritants, and in cold weather.

7. Consider drinking coffee or tea. Both contain a chemical similar to the old asthma medicine theophylline. (These days, there’s usually better medicine with fewer side effects, but theophylline worked.) Many doctors deduce, however, that the amounts in these drinks are too small to do much good, but seems to me they’re worth a try. Don’t go overboard. You’re probably drinking a cup or two a day already, and that’s plenty.

8. Store the over-the-counter oral decongestant pseudoephedrine (Sudafed). It may help during an attack. Be sure to know its potential side effects, such as increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, and causing urinary problems in anyone with an enlarged prostate.

9. Here’s a must. Keep epinephrine, like an Epipen, on hand. Sure it works for allergic reactions, but it works for asthma attacks without an inhaler too. Of course, get to a medical facility, but if that’s not possible, have epinephrine around for emergencies. If all else fails, it could be a lifesaver.

Please, ask your doctor before trying any of these things. Never use these as an alternative to prescription medicines. Don’t risk your life.

If you’ve tried the breathing exercises, I’d love to know how they’ve worked for you—that and any further suggestions to deal with an asthma attack without an inhaler that I’ve left off.

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Photo © Gary Otte. All rights reserved.

  • Kelly Hooper

    I used to suffer from asthma for over 20 years so I can very much relate to people who suffer from it. After being a long time sufferer I was actually able to cure my asthma naturally after countless hours of online research with trial & error. What worked for me is as follows:

    1. Follow every step in the full guide seen at the following link:
    healthcurenews*com/asthma (obviously change the * for a dot as it won’t let me post links here) to get to the root of the problem in a NATURAL way. This the important bit!

    3. Take up either yoga or tai chi. Not only does the exercise help with breathing but this boost serotonin production allowing a better mental state.

    Try my advice and hopefully you will get as much luck with getting rid of asthma as i did. Just stay confident as asthma does not have to get the better of you as long as you have it in you to fight it. Good luck

  • papaassasin

    Control the Allergy and you can Control the Asthma…I have severe Asthma, I’ve had it since I was very young. I can say that I have ran through the gauntlet of medications out there. I have found that controlling my allergies helps a lot. Exercise like cardio helps and keeping calm helps too. One time in my life, I was in a situation where I had no means of acquiring medication for my asthma. I did have an abundance of coffee on hand. I drank 3 to 4 cups every 6 hours when I felt an attack coming on and stayed moderately active. I was also able to find some Zyrtec 24hour medication that I took as well. This worked for me for 4 months until I could get to a pharmacy and acquire some medication… I been told that Coke or any drink out there with caffeine would work in a pinch.

  • Elle

    Where are the survival tips? These all are preventative not present attack techniques.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      7, 8, and 9 are present attack techniques. 2 may also help during an attack.

  • Anonymous user

    So I hve had servere athma where anythinkin from chemicals pollination to even walkin upstairs is difficult everythink is difficult but my family dont really understand as ima the first person to have it I keep tryin techniques and even go to doctors regularly but nothing helps it wat could I do beacaue life is comin more stressful which means asthma gets worse and worse

  • Eva

    So is this asthma? It starts with my underchin itching, then dry cough, then I have difficulty breathing. I am allergic to ambrosia but not that much, and to nothing else according to the tests, but couple of times when I was out during summer and in the mall couple of times this happened to me. Drinking desloratadine antihistamines helps, less recently, and this morning I took asthma inhaler for the first time because I had difficulty breathing, like heaviness in my chest. It did help, but for hours I was weaker, until noon or something. Thanks for the help! I am 20 years old female, my dad had asthma as a kid.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      There are lung tests that can be done to help decide if it is asthma and the best treatment.

      • Eva

        Thanks, I will be sure to do them asap

  • Pingback: How to Reduce Asthma Attacks and Panic Attacks by Retraining Your Breathing()

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  • JHarder

    I have a awful chest cold and woke up coughing so bad I couldn’t breathe. To best descibe this is that I was coughing out but couldn’t breathe in, I honestly thought i was going to dye. When i finally started breathing I went to the bathroom and my feet were tingly and I was very week. What can i do to help myself breathe if this happens again??

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should see a doctor today. Sounds like more than a cold to me.

  • Nancy

    Personnally, I had mild asthma and was able to completely eliminate the need for inhaler by starting to take 12 000 IU of vitamin D3 each day. I only add to this a syrup for congested chest when i get a cold or flu and a bigger dose of vitamin C to help my immune and pulmonary systems to better cope. The research on the effect of vitamin D3 on asthma is very interesting, it really worked for me.

  • sandy

    An accupressure point for asthma attack is about one vertebrae below neck/shoulders on the back.. Press HARD on both sides of the spine for several seconds or even a minute if necessary, and breathing will open for a short time. May be repeated until other meds/inhalers are available. I don’t know exact ‘measurements’ but I’ve seen this work twice.