In an asthma attack the muscles of the air
passages in the lungs go into spasm and
the linings of the airways swell.
As a result, the airways become narrowed and
breathing becomes difficult.
Sometimes there is a specific trigger for an asthma attack such
- an allergy
- a cold
- cigarette smoke
- extremes of temperature
People with asthma usually deal well with their own attacks by
using a blue reliever inhaler, however you may be
required to assist someone having an asthma attack or having an
attack for the first time.
There may also be:
- wheezing as the casualty breathes out
- difficulty speaking and whispering
- distress and anxiety
- features of hypoxia, such as a grey-blue tinge to the lips,
earlobes and nailbeds (cyanosis).
Your aims during an asthma attack are to ease the breathing and
if necessary get medical help.
- You need to keep the casualty calm and
- If they have a blue reliever inhaler then encourage
them to use it. Children may have a spacer device and you should
encourage them to use that with their inhaler also. It should
relieve the attack within a few minutes.
- Encourage the casualty to breathe slowly and deeply.
- Encourage the
casualty to sit in a position that they find most comfortable. Do
not lie the casualty down.
- A mild asthma attack should ease within a few minutes of
them using their inhaler. If it doesn't then assist them to use
their inhaler (one or two puffs) every two minutes until they have
had 10 puffs.
- Monitor their vital signs - breathing, level of response and
If this is the first attack, the attack is severe, the inhaler
has no effect or the attack appears to be getting worse.
Dial 999 (or 112) for an
If the patient becomes unconscious open
the airway and check their breathing and be prepared to give
emergency aid. Please listen to the tips on recovery position and CPR.
These hints are no substitute for thorough knowledge of first
aid! St John Ambulance holds first aid
courses throughout the country.