Recognising and treating asthma

Boy being given his puffer and spacer

Would you know what to do if you were faced with someone having an asthma attack? Would you even recognise they were having an asthma attack?

What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition of the airways. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs, which react to triggers that activate their asthma.

When the trigger activates the airways to swell, mucus is produced, which blocks an already constricted airway and causes the muscle around the airway to constrict.

Signs of an asthma attack

  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing

Signs of a severe asthma attack include some or all of the following:

  • Gasping for breath
  • Severe chest tightness
  • Inability to speak more than one or two words per breath
  • Feeling distressed or anxious
  • Little or no improvement after using reliever medication
  • Sucking in of the throat and rib muscles, use of shoulder muscles, or bracing with arms to help breathing
  • Blue discoloration around the lips
  • Pale and sweaty skin
  • Symptoms rapidly getting worse or using reliever more than every two hours

As well as these symptoms, young children appear restless, unable to settle or drowsy. A child may also suck in muscles around the ribs and may have problems eating and drinking. A child also may have severe coughing and vomiting.

An asthma attack can take anything from a few minutes to a few days to develop.


  • Assist casualty into comfortable seating position with arms supported
  • Assist with prescribed medication: 4 puffs, with 4 breaths between each puff
  • Wait 4 minutes, if no improvement give another 4 puffs
  • If little or no improvement, call 000
  • Continue with 4x4 medication method until ambulance arrives

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