What helps asthma symptoms without a rescue inhaler?

If you have asthma, you should never leave home without your rescue inhaler! However, no matter how long you have had asthma, there may be times you forget your inhaler at home and have to decide what to do.

While nothing is as good a solution as using your rescue inhaler, there are some commonly-recommended steps you can try to help get through mild asthma symptoms without an inhaler. Of course, remember: this is not medical advice, and if you are having difficulty breathing and do not have an inhaler with you, the best thing to do is to go to a hospital or clinic for medication!

If your symptoms are mild, these tips may help:
  • Stop what you are doing and move away from any triggers. If you are outdoors and can move indoors where temperatures are regulated (air-conditioned or heated depending on the season!), this may help, too. Moving indoors or to another outdoor area may help if you know that your asthma symptoms are being triggered by a known allergen or a trigger like cigarette smoke.
    • Sit upright—this will help keep your airways open, whereas hunching forward or lying down may make it more difficult to breathe.
  • Breathe as normally as possible. If you find you are breathing rapidly (hyperventilating), do your best to breathe slowly and regularly—if this is difficult, try taking long deep breaths.
    • Stay calm. Focusing on your breathing this way may make it feel more difficult to stay calm about your asthma symptoms. However, remaining as calm as possible can help you keep your breathing under control and not cause symptoms to escalate.
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage. Caffeine appears to act somewhat like the bronchodilator drug theophylline, helping to open up the airways for anywhere from 1-4 hours. Whether caffeine is an adequate bronchodilator to help with symptoms truly is to be determined, per a Cochrane review of the literature on the subject, but it may be worth trying.
  • Seek emergency medical care if symptoms worsen. If your symptoms are not getting better after trying the tips above, call your doctor or visit a hospital or clinic. If your symptoms are severe, do not hesitate to call 911 and have an ambulance take you to the hospital.
In a pinch, you may also be able to get an inhaler from a nearby pharmacy, but this will be dependent on local prescribing laws afforded to pharmacists or if your existing prescription can be transferred —this may take too much time, but it may work in a pinch or if you happen to be near your “home” pharmacy!

It is always important to keep your inhaler with you, but we all make mistakes from time to time! These tips may buy you some time to get to your inhaler but are in no way medical advice. You can also talk to your doctor or asthma educator and see if they have any suggestions for managing symptoms without an inhaler.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about asthma, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

  • SingHealth - Health Xchange. How to survive an asthma attack if you’re caught without your inhaler.
  • Cochrane. The effect of caffeine on people with asthma.
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