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Asthma attack - Would you know how to help should you need to?

Asthma is a common, long term or chronic medical condition that affects an individual's airways. It affects around 5 million people in UK today. Ongoing management is required which should be overseen by a doctor or practice nurse. An asthma attack can be brought on by certain triggers, this causes the airways to become narrowed, making it very difficult to breathe in and out.
Asthma commonly starts at childhood, but in some cases it is possible to develop at any age. It's not fully known why people develop it, but it is believed to be due to genetics and the environment you live in. Unfortunately it is incurable, but with a good management plan, it can be controlled.

Asthma Triggers

Asthma attacks can be triggered by several things, but in some cases, there is no actual cause that can be found. People suffering with asthma will usually carry an inhaler with them to use when they are struggling to catch their breath. Some of the main triggers to an attack can be:


  • Pollution or irritants
  • The quality of air inside
  • Changes in weather
  • Second-hand smoke


  • Dust mites in the home
  • Animals and pets
  • Mould
  • Food
  • Pollen


  • Hormones
  • Smoking
  • Sexual activity
  • Exercise
  • Alcohol
  • Work
  • Recreational drugs
  • Stress
  • Emotions

Signs of an attack

The key to helping someone with an attack, is spotting the signs and knowing what to do before it gets too serious. The muscles around the person's airways will have become swollen and inflamed with increased mucus production. You can't spot this, so what should you look for?:

  • The person will start to wheeze and find it difficult to catch a breath
  • They will find it difficult to speak or cough
  • Lips will begin to turn a bluish colour
  • They will start to become distressed and anxious
  • Hopefully they will indicate what medication they have and where it is (if they are a close friend or family member, you should make sure to know this)

Asthma attack

What should you do?

There is no miracle cure that you can provide, no special manoeuvre of breathing aid you can use. It is basically down to you to calm them down and let their medication do its job.
Firstly, and most importantly, keep calm, as your panic can worsen an already stressful event.

Now 'calmly' find them a comfortable area to sit down and help them to take their asthma medication. When seating, try to make sure they'rein an upright position. An upright position creates an unobstructed airway allowing them to breathe easier.

If it is obvious, or if you already know a person's trigger, eliminate this straight away. Get rid of the smokers, remove the pets or turn off the A/C.

Now simply stay with them and try to reassure them. Hopefully the calming environment and medication will do its job and the individual will gradually improve.

If the attack becomes severe or if they don't have their medication with them, call 999 straight away. Preferably get someone else to do this, whilst you stay with them. For more information about asthma; advice, research and professional help you can visit the Asthma UK website here.