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.
- Difficulty in breathing, with a very prolonged breathing-out
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,
often leaning forward with arms resting on a table or the back of a
chair. Do not lie the casualty down.
- A mild asthma attack should ease within three minutes but
if it doesn’t encourage the casualty to use their inhaler
If this is the first attack, or if the attack is severe and any
one of the following occurs:
- The inhaler has no effect after five minutes
- The casualty is becoming worse
- Breathlessness makes talking difficult
- The casualty becomes exhausted.
Dial 999 (or 112) for an
- Encourage the casualty to use their inhaler every five to
- Monitor and record the breathing and pulse rate every 10
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.