First aid for asthma

girl using puffer
8 May 2014

At the top of the list of common breathing problems is asthma, which affects over five million people in the UK. However many people don’t take asthma and its effects seriously enough.

A report from the Royal College of Physicians out this month says too many people are dying from asthma because of a lack of information and advice. It also says that an estimated 75 per cent of hospital admissions for asthma are avoidable, and 90 per cent of deaths are preventable.

Asthma and hayfever

Hayfever is a major risk factor for asthma, and the two are often experienced side by side. Poorly treated hayfever can increase the threat of an asthma attack.

We recommend regularly checking pollen counts and staying on top of medication to keep asthma attacks at bay. If you’re asthmatic and you know hay fever affects you, keep your inhaler with you at all times.

Recognise an asthma attack

What is an asthma attack? An asthma attack is when lung muscles spasm and the airway swells, becoming narrow and making it hard to breathe.

What causes an asthma attackThese attacks are caused by many things including allergies, smoke or exercise.

How to recognise an asthma attack:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing on the exhale
  • Difficulty speaking and whispering
  • Distress and anxiety
  • Coughing
  • Grey-blue tinge to the lips, earlobes and nailbeds

Know what to do

Knowing first aid can help those around you stay safe. Here’s what you need to know if some is having an asthma attack:

  • Keep calm: panicking could make their breathing worse. Encourage slow, deep breaths
  • Help them into a comfortable breathing position, and encourage them to use an inhaler if they have one
  • A mild attack should ease within a few minutes of using an inhaler. If it doesn’t, encourage them to take one or two puffs every two minutes, up to a maximum of 10 puffs
  • Monitor their vital signs: breathing, pulse and responsiveness
  • Call an ambulance if the inhaler has no effect, or the person is becoming exhausted

‘Knowing basic first aid can be crucial in helping asthma sufferers during an attack, and could help to prevent these unnecessary deaths, says Alan Weir, Head of Clinical Services at St John Ambulance. ‘Simple steps will ensure they get the immediate attention they need to stop their condition from becoming, in some cases, fatal.'

This was written with information from an article by The Independent, in which we were quoted.