What to Do When Someone Has an Asthma Attack


Almost everyone knows at least one person who suffers from asthma. However, surprisingly few people know what to do when their loved ones have serious asthma attacks and begin struggling to breathe. Read on to discover the basics about First Aid for Asthma Attacks and how to help.

Identifying Asthma Attacks

The first thing people need to know about managing asthma attacks is how to identify what’s happening. Asthma attacks are caused by inflammation in the affected person’s airway, which stimulates the surrounding muscles to tighten and restrict airflow. The resulting symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, and struggling for air.

Assessing Attack Severity

Not all asthma attacks are serious. Some are mild, last only a short while, and can be managed effectively at home. Others are far more serious and require immediate first and prompt medical care. Signs of severe asthma attacks that require a trip to the ER include:

  • Bluish discoloration of the lips
  • Skin that looks like it has been sucked in between the person’s ribs or on his or her neck
  • A blue or grey tinge to the patient’s fingers
  • Ongoing breathing problems even several minutes after using a rescue inhaler

What to Do While Waiting for an Ambulance

If someone is suffering from a severe asthma attack, it’s best to call for an ambulance, especially for a stranger. In the intervening time, try to figure out the person’s emergency plan. Everyone who suffers from asthma is encouraged to write down what to do during a serious attack and keep a copy of that plan in a wallet or pocketbook, though not all asthma patients follow this advice.

Most people’s emergency plans include information about potential triggers. If the person isn’t carrying a copy of an emergency plan, it’s usually safe to assume that the attack was brought on by one of the common culprits such as:

  • Pollen
  • Mold spores
  • Dust mites
  • Pet dander
  • Feathers
  • Smoke
  • Gas
  • Cold or windy weather
  • Stress or excessive exercise

If it’s possible to identify the person’s trigger, try to eliminate it immediately. There’s no way to get an asthma attack under control if the asthma patient continues to be exposed to whatever substance or activity triggered it.

Next, check the plan for information about the administration of targeted medications such as rescue inhalers, bronchodilators, or other anti-inflammatories. Asthma sufferers should carry these medications on their persons in the original packaging. Stay calm and make sure to read the label to check dosage guidelines.

Know When to Get Help

As noted above, it’s important to seek immediate medical care for severe asthma attacks that involve prolonged periods of chest tightening and struggling to breathe not alleviated by emergency medications. For milder asthma attacks that can be brought under control, it may still be worth heading to an urgent care center.

If it’s the first time a person has had a probable asthma attack, the patient should schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible to seek a diagnosis and help with managing the disease. Knowing how to administer first aid for asthma can prevent the need for emergency room visits in some cases and improve the person’s chances of a positive outcome should there be a need to call in first responders.


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