Learn first aid for someone who is having an asthma attack
1. Help the person sit in a comfortable position and take their inhaler.
When someone 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 the person. If the attack becomes severe, or they don't have their inhaler, call 999 as soon as possible.
A mild attack should ease within a few minutes. If it doesn’t, they can continue to take their inhaler. You should call 999 if they they don’t have their inhaler, their inhaler has no effect, they are becoming worse or they become unable to talk. 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 someone who is having an asthma attack (1 minute 37 seconds)
Common questions about first aid for someone 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 someone is having an asthma attack?
People with asthma should be able to let you know if they are having an attack.
Someone 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 someone with asthma use?
Someone 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.
If someone is having an asthma attack they should know how to use their inhaler and spacer but they may need your help in finding them.
What does an 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.
How do you use an inhaler?
If a person has asthma they should know how to use their inhaler, they may need your help getting it for them. They should take it as normal. If that doesn’t help they can take one or two puffs every 30 or 60 seconds until they’ve had 10 puffs.
If they have a personal asthma plan they should follow this and seek medical advice if necessary.
What is a spacer?
A spacer is a hollow cylinder that attaches to an inhaler. It can help a person having an asthma attack take their medication more effectively. A baby or 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 baby or child who is having an asthma attack can then breathe the medicine in slowly.
I have given them their inhaler. 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 a noise
- are becoming exhausted
- aren’t helped by their inhaler
- don’t have any asthma medication with them
- get worse.
What do I do if the person stops breathing?
- how to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing
- how to help a child who is unresponsive and not breathing
- how to help a baby who is unresponsive and not breathing.
What should I do if they have an asthma attack and don’t have their inhaler?
Call 999 as soon as possible. They must be taken urgently to hospital by ambulance.
Email us if you have any other questions about first aid for someone having an asthma attack.