go back

How to Stop Asthma Wheezing Without an Inhaler

February 8, 2023

Asthma attacks can occur at any time

Asthma is one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses in the country. And the number of Americans that suffer from the disease continues to rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of May 2022 more than 25 million people in the United States have asthma.

Currently there is no cure for asthma, but there are medications that can help manage symptoms – including those taken via inhaler.

Asthma attacks can occur at any time. While sufferers know how important it is to have their inhaler with them, there are times when people find themselves without their inhaler or with one that doesn’t work.

Whether it’s you or a loved one that is experiencing an onset of symptoms, here’s what you can do to stop asthma wheezing without an inhaler.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is the chronic inflammation of the air passages in the lungs. The onset of asthma typically begins in childhood, with the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) noting that asthma is more prevalent in children than in adults. The ACAAI also indicates females are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than males.

According to one of our allergists, John Anderson, MD, there are three changes in the airway when an asthma attack occurs:

  1. Swelling inside the airway
  2. Excess mucus that clogs the airway
  3. Muscles tighten and squeeze around the airways

The swelling, clogging, and tightening constricts the airways and makes it more difficult to breathe. 

Boy sitting in a cardboard box with a corgi dog over his lap and a cat in the back of the box.
Millions of children develop asthma in their earliest years of development and have what is referred to as childhood asthma.


As with most health problems, diagnosing asthma starts with your doctor asking you a lot of questions about your health. In addition to asking about your health history, a doctor will also do breathing tests to see how well your lungs work and how strong they are.

Spirometry is a common breathing test in which the patient takes a deep breath and blows out into a sensor. Patients who have had allergies in the past may also get a FeNO test, which measures how inflamed the lungs are. During the diagnostic process, people with allergies may also have to go through more allergy tests.

If the patient is a child, the doctor will also talk to a parent or guardian about the symptoms and when they started and stopped. Common asthma tests don’t work well on kids younger than 5, so it’s important for parents to pay close attention to their kids’ symptoms and write them down.

What Causes an Asthma Attack?

Every person’s asthma is different. Which means triggers are specific to each individual. According to the CDC, there are seven common asthma triggers:

  1. Tobacco smoke
  2. Dust mites
  3. Outdoor air pollution
  4. Pests (i.e. cockroaches or mice)
  5. Pets
  6. Mold
  7. Cleaning and disinfecting products

Other triggers can include infections linked to the flu, colds, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as well as physical exercise, heat and humidity, and foods and fragrances. Strong emotions/stress that can lead to hyperventilation can also bring on an attack. The most important thing is to know your specific triggers and try your best to keep away from them.

Woman sitting on a couch enjoying a cup of coffee
Caffeine has similar properties to some asthma medications and can help temporarily improve airway function. Try to avoid carbonation, so think more coffee or tea, and less soda.

What Should I Do If I Don’t Have My Inhaler?

Asthma attacks can happen at any time. And even those who know the importance of carrying an inhaler can find themselves without one or without one that works.

If you or a loved one begins experiencing an asthma attack and do not have a rescue inhaler available, we recommend trying these steps to stop the wheezing and get breathing under control:

  1. Sit upright. This helps to open up the airway. Do not bend over or lie down, as this can constrict the airway even more.
  2. Take long, deep breaths. The goal is to try and slow down the breathing as much as possible. Breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth. 
  3. Stay calm. Try to prevent hyperventilation. Anxiety can trigger both chest and back muscles, which can make it even more difficult to draw breath.
  4. Get away from the trigger, if possible. Find the closest clean air possible, in an air-conditioned environment if possible. Once in a safe space, try to take slow, deep breaths.
  5. Drink a warm, caffeinated beverage. Caffeine has similar properties to some asthma medications and can help temporarily improve airway function. Try to avoid carbonation, so think more coffee or tea, and less soda.
  6. Get medical help. If wheezing, coughing, or breathing continues to get worse, it’s important to seek professional, medical help as soon as possible.

Medically Reviewed By: John Anderson, MD
Reviewed on: Jan. 13, 2022

Our team of writers, editors, and medical experts goes over each article carefully to make sure the information is correct and that only reliable sources are used.

We regularly check to see if the info in this article matches up with the latest scientific research and expert advice so that we can give you the most up-to-date information. See list of trusted resources here.

Let's Make Your Plan

Every asthma action plan is personalized and can be a clear reminder of what was discussed between you and your doctor. Let us help you create your unique plan today.

Make an Appointment