Someone using an inhaler for asthma which you can learn how to do in a St John Ambulance Cymru first aid at work training courses

How to help someone experiencing an asthma attack

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. Sometimes things such as an allergy, cold weather, an illness like a cold, cigarette smoke etc. can be enough to trigger an asthma attack. At other times there is no apparent trigger, and asthma sufferers can experience sudden 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 
  • Signs of hypoxia such as a grey-blue tinge to the lips, earlobes and nailbeds 
  • Exhaustion, in the case of severe attacks.


What to do

Follow the steps below:

Step 1 

Keep the casualty calm, get them sat down in a comfortable position.

Step 2 

Reassure them, and get them to take the usual dose of their “reliever” inhaler and to breathe slowly and deeply.

  • If they have a spacer available, ask them to use it with their inhaler. The inhaler is more effective with a spacer when being used for young children. 
  • If they have no inhaler call 999 or 112 for emergency help. 
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 more doses of their inhaler – they can have one or two puffs every two minutes until they have had ten puffs in total.

Step 4 

If the attack is severe and they are getting worse, becoming exhausted or if this is their first attack call 999 or 112 for emergency help.

Step 5 

Monitor their breathing and level of response, and be prepared to start CPR should they become unresponsive.

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