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Asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition. When someone experiences an asthma attack, the muscles of the air passages in the lungs go into spasm. This narrows the airways, which makes breathing difficult. The air passages in someone with asthma are sensitive to particular irritants. These irritants, commonly known as triggers, include pollen, animal fur, feathers, exercise, smoke, and house dust mites. Flu and colds can also affect asthma, which may be worse at night.

Once diagnosed with asthma, the person is given support to help them through their illness. Medication is usually delivered by an inhaler. There are two types of inhaler, Reliever inhalers (usually blue or with a blue cap) are used immediately to relieve symptoms, Preventer inhalers (usually brown or with a brown cap) are used each day to help prevent asthma attacks.

People experiencing an asthma attack can experience any of the following signs/symptoms: 

  • difficulty breathing 
  • wheezing and/or coughing 
  • distress and anxiety 
  • difficulty in speaking, shown through being unable to complete sentences and whispering 
  • grey-blue skin (cyanosis) 
  • in a severe attack, the casualty may experience exhaustion, and become unresponsive and stop breathing


What to do

Follow the steps below:

Step 1 

Keep calm and reassure the casualty. Get them to take a dose of their reliever inhaler, using a spacer if they have one. Encourage the casualty to breathe slowly and deeply.

Step 2 

  • let the casualty find a position that they find comfortable. This is often sitting down, do not make them lie down.

Step 3 

A mild attack should ease within a few minutes with the use of their inhaler. If it does not, the casualty may take 1-2 puffs of their inhaler every 30-60 seconds for up to 10 puffs. If they have a personal plan this should be followed and seek medical aid if necessary.

Step 4 

Dial 999 or 112 for an ambulance if the attack is severe and one of the following occurs:

  • the inhaler has no effect
  • the casualty is getting worse
  • they become exhausted
  • breathlessness makes talking difficult

Step 5 

Monitor and record the casualty’s vital signs until help arrives. If there is a delay of more than 15 minutes, repeat taking 1-2 puffs every 30-60 seconds, up to 10 puffs.

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