Learn first aid for a child who is having an asthma attack
1. Help the child sit in a comfortable position and take their medication.
When a child has an asthma attack, their airways narrow, making it difficult for them to breathe. An inhaler relaxes the muscles, allowing the airways to expand and ease their breathing.
2. Reassure them. If the attack becomes severe, or they don't have their medication, call 999 as soon as possible.
A mild attack should ease within a few minutes. Call 999 if the attack lasts longer than that, they don’t have their medication or the inhaler has no effect. Do not leave them, in case the attack becomes severe quickly. If you can’t call 999, get someone else to do it.
Watch how to help a child who is having an asthma attack (1 minute 39 seconds)
Common questions about first aid for a child who is having an asthma attack
What is asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition that affects the airways – the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. When someone has an asthma attack, these tubes become narrowed, making it difficult to breathe in and out.
How can I tell if a child is having an asthma attack?
A child with asthma may be able to let you know if they are having an attack.
A child having an asthma attack will have difficulty breathing and speaking, and may cough and wheeze. They may be very anxious and distressed as they struggle to breathe.
In some cases, their lips, earlobes and nail beds may turn greyish-blue because there isn’t enough oxygen in their body.
What sort of medication will a child with asthma use?
A child who has asthma will normally have an inhaler that their doctor has prescribed. They may also have a spacer, which makes the inhaler more effective.
What does an asthma inhaler look like?
Inhalers can come in many different sizes and shapes. Inhalers to relieve asthma attacks are usually blue. Inhalers that prevent asthma attacks may be brown or white.
What is a spacer?
A spacer is a hollow cylinder that attaches to an inhaler. It can help a person having an asthma attack to take their medication more effectively. A child having an asthma attack should use a spacer to help them take their medication.
How does a spacer work?
An inhaler fits into one end of the spacer and there is a mouthpiece at the other end. When a person presses on the inhaler the medicine is released and collects in the container. The child who is having an asthma attack can then breathe the medicine in slowly.
I have given them their medication. Is there anything else I can do to help ease their attack?
Help them to sit up and lean forward slightly as this may make it easier for them to breathe. Encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply.
When should I call 999 for an asthma attack?
Call 999 if they:
- are having their first attack
- stop breathing
- are finding it difficult to talk or make noise
- are becoming exhausted
- aren’t helped by their medication
- don’t have any asthma medication with them
- get worse.
What do I do if the child stops breathing?
What should I do if they have an asthma attack and don’t have their medication?
Call 999 immediately. They must be taken urgently to hospital by ambulance.
Email us if you have any other questions about first aid for a child who is having an asthma attack.