First aid

Updated 24 March 2020

Asthma attack

Asthma is a serious respiratory condition that causes narrowing of the airways. Here's what to do if someone gets a serious asthma attack.

Asthma is a serious condition that affects the airways. It usually occurs in episodes, called "attacks", during which the airways to the lungs narrow, making it hard to breathe. Asthma attacks are seldom fatal with prompt, correct treatment.

People who suffer from asthma generally carry medications such as bronchodilators (asthma pump) with them in the event of an attack, which work by relaxing the constricted muscles so that the airways can open and ease breathing difficulty.

What are the symptoms of asthma attack?
These may include:

  • Shortness of breath or panting, especially after physical exertion
  • Rapid, loud or uneven breathing
  • Wheezing, or a whistling sound when exhaling
  • Breathing problems makes talking difficult
  • Tight or sore chest
  • Spaces between the ribs become visible when inhaling
  • Hunching over
  • Sweating
  • Paleness
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Nostrils flaring
  • Throat-clearing
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue

Get help immediately if:

  • Someone is struggling to breathe or is unusually short of breath.
  • A person is asthmatic and his or her medication doesn't bring relief.
  • The person has difficulty walking or talking.
  • Fingernails and lips turn bluish-gray.

First aid for asthma
Help the person find and take his medication quickly. Talk to him in a calm, reassuring manner, and encourage him to rest and sit quietly until help arrives.


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