Updated 26 October 2017

What to do when someone has an asthma attack in the gym

You often see people around you in the gym breathing heavily, with flared nostrils and sweaty foreheads. But how do you know if it's just harmless panting or if they're having an asthma attack?

With people flooding the gym to carry out their “new year, new me” resolutions, you may be distracted by the loud panting of the person on the treadmill next to you. But have you ever stopped to check if they are okay?

According to the Global Asthma Report of 2014, South Africa has the largest asthma mortality rates in the world and 3,9 million people in the country suffer from this respiratory condition.

Read: Asthma and exercise

According to ER24 spokesperson, Werner Vermaak, asthma causes the airways to the lungs to constrict, making it hard to breathe. Symptoms of an asthma attack include shortness of breath, paleness, nostril flaring, wheezing and throat clearing.

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms also follow excessive exercise, making it hard to differentiate between the unfit and the unhealthy. It may therefore be helpful to know what to do when someone has an asthma attack near you.

Vermaak says you can follow these three simple steps:

1.     Help the person find and take their medication quickly.

2.     Talk to then in a calm and reassuring manner.

3.     Encourage them to rest and sit quietly until help arrives.

Read: Exercises you can safely do if you have asthma

Leigh Roberts, fitness manager at Virgin Active in Somerset-West, says most gyms follow a plan of action in cases of emergencies. “We have panic buttons in case a member is in distress, which will alert staff where the emergency is,” he says.

Similarly, both Planet Fitness and Curves have measures in place for emergencies. Therefore if someone next to you suddenly has an attack, it’s important to stay calm and ask a fitness instructor for assistance.

Roberts adds that members of a gym usually look out for one another, but that it is also important to be aware of your own limits by taking ownership of your own health. If you are asthmatic, Roberts advises to make sure that you have your inhaler close by when you do any form of exercise.

Read More:

How you can die from ‘thunderstorm asthma’

Is it safe to use an asthma inhaler if I don't have asthma?

10 famous people living with asthma


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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