In an asthma attack, the muscles of the air passages in the
lungs go into spasm. This makes the airways narrower, making it
difficult to breathe.
Sometimes something specific can trigger an attack, such as an
allergy, a cold, or cigarette smoke. At other times, someone may
have a sudden attack with no obvious trigger.
People with asthma usually deal with their own attacks by using
a blue reliever inhaler at the first sign of an attack. But if
someone doesn’t have an inhaler, or the attack is severe, you may
need to help.
Watch our video - Asthma attacks
What to look for - Asthma attacks
If you think someone is having an asthma attack, these are the
five key things to look for:
- 1. Difficulty breathing or speaking
- 2. Wheezing
- 3. Coughing
- 4. Distress
- 5. Grey-blue tinge to the lips, earlobes and nailbeds (known as
What you need to do - Asthma attacks
• First, reassure them and ask them to breathe slowly and
deeply which will help them control their breathing.
• Then help them use their reliever inhaler straight away.
This should relieve the attack.
• Next, sit them down in a comfortable position.
• If it doesn’t get better within a few minutes, it may be
a severe attack. Get them to take one or two puffs of their inhaler
every two minutes, until they’ve had 10 puffs.
• If the attack is severe and they are getting worse or
becoming exhausted, or if this is their first attack, then call
999/112 for an ambulance.
• Help them to keep using their inhaler if they need to.
Keep checking their breathing, pulse and level of response.
• If they lose responsiveness at any point, open their
airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who’s