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First Aid - Asthma Awareness

What would you do if someone is having an Asthma Attack? 

Asthma - St Vincent's Lung Health

Asthma attacks kill 3 people in the UK each day. But many of these deaths could be avoided. 

Every 10 seconds someone has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. 

What is Asthma? 

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways. It causes wheezing and can make it hard to breathe. Some triggers include exposure to an allergen or irritant, viruses, exercise, emotional stress, and other factors. 

It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults. 

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?  

The main symptoms of asthma are: 

  • a whistling sound when breathing (wheezing) 
  • breathlessness 
  • a tight chest, which may feel like a band is tightening around it 
  • coughing 

The symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse. This is known as an asthma attack. 

What is an Asthma Attack? 

An asthma attack is a worsening of asthma symptoms and lung function compared to what you would usually experience day to day. An asthma attack can come on slowly (over hours, days or even weeks) or very quickly (over minutes). 

A sudden / severe asthma attack can quickly become an asthma emergency, but if you take quick action, you can reduce the risk of an asthma emergency. 

How to reduce your risk of an asthma attack? 

If you or someone you may know have asthma, you need to do what you can to cut down exposure to asthma triggers. That starts by knowing what causes you to cough, wheeze and grasp for breath. While there’s no cure, there are steps you can take to keep your asthma in control and preventing an emergency.  

  • follow your personal asthma action plan and take all your medicines as prescribed 
  • have regular asthma reviews with a GP or asthma nurse – these should be done at least once a year 
  • check with a GP or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly 
  • avoid things that trigger your symptoms whenever possible 

Do not ignore your symptoms if they're getting worse or you need to use your reliever inhaler

more often than usual. 

What to do if you’re having an asthma attack  

If you think you're having an asthma attack, you should: 

  • Sit upright (do not lie down) and try to take slow, steady breaths. Try to remain calm, as panicking will make things worse. 
  • Take 1 puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs. 
  • Call 999 for an ambulance if you do not have your inhaler with you, you feel worse despite using your inhaler, you do not feel better after taking 10 puffs or you're worried at any point. 
  1. If the ambulance has not arrived within 15 minutes, repeat step 2. 

Never be frightened of calling for help in an emergency. 

Try to take the details of your medicines (or your personal asthma action plan) with you to hospital if possible. 

If your symptoms improve and you do not need to call 999, get an urgent same-day appointment to see a GP or asthma nurse. 

This advice is not for people on SMART or MART treatment. If this applies to you, ask a GP or asthma nurse what to do if you have an asthma attack. 

What to do after you had an asthma attack?  

You should see a GP or asthma nurse within 48 hours of leaving hospital, or ideally on the same day if you did not need hospital treatment. 

About 1 in 6 people treated in hospital for an asthma attack need hospital care again within 2 weeks, so it's important to discuss how you can reduce your risk of future attacks. 

Advice for Family and Friends  

It's important that your friends and family know how to help in an emergency. 

It can be useful to make copies of your personal asthma action plan and share it with others who may need to know what to do when you have an attack. 

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