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First Aid for an Asthma Attack: What You Need to Know

written by: Nishaat • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/30/2011

It's always useful to know first aid for asthma attacks, whether a family member suffers from it or not. Learn what you can do to help a person having an asthma attack. Equip yourself today!

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    During an asthma attack, the person's asthma symptoms worsen all of a sudden due to the tightening of muscles around the air passages. This is called bronchospasm. Increased production of a thicker-than-usual mucus takes place, and the airway linings become inflamed and swollen.

    An asthma attack can happen at anytime. It could be a person's first time having an attack who isn’t even aware that he suffers from asthma, or it could be a person with a long medical history of asthma. He may or may not be experienced with using an inhaler. It can be a child or an adult. If asthma attacks are not handled carefully and methodically, the result could be detrimental. Therefore, it is very important and useful to know how to implement first aid for asthma attacks.

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    First Aid

    • Make the person sit upright. Never allow a person to lie when he is having an asthma attack because it increases difficulty in breathing. Remain calm and reassure the person.

    • Get a reliever inhaler (which is usually blue) such as Bricanyl or Ventolin. It is best to use the person's personal inhaler. If not available, borrow someone else's. For relievers, it is best to use a spacer if one is available. A spacer is a tube made of plastic or metal, and it acts as a connective element between the patient’s mouth and the medication canister. If an inhaler is not available, call for an ambulance or 911.

    • Give four puffs (see instructions below on how to use an inhaler with or without a spacer).

    • If no improvement after four minutes, give four more puffs.

    • If still no improvement or only slight improvement, call for an ambulance or 911.

    • Continue giving four puffs every four minutes until help arrives or symptoms improve (for adults, six to eight puffs every five minutes can be given if the attack is severe).

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    How to Use an Inhaler - With and Without a Spacer

    When helping a person during an asthma attack, remember to carefully and patiently guide him through every step in the process. Even if the person has used an inhaler several times in the past, it is very likely that he may be unable to register and remember how to operate the inhaler during an attack. The state of trauma may fog the person's memory. Give clear and direct instructions in a step-by-step manner.

    Using an Inhaler without a Spacer

    • Shake the inhaler and remove the cap.
    • Have the person exhale as much as possible through the nose (keep the mouth shut).
    • Place the mouthpiece of the inhaler in the person's mouth and have him close his lips tightly around the mouthpiece.
    • Give a puff while the person takes a slow, deep breath.
    • Remove the mouthpiece and tell the person to hold their breath for four seconds then instruct them to take four normal breaths.
    • Repeat this process until a total of four puffs have been given.

    Using an Inhaler with a Spacer

    • Shake the inhaler and remove the cap.
    • Attach the spacer to the mouthpiece.
    • Place the mouthpiece of the spacer in the person's mouth and have him close his lips tightly around the mouthpiece.
    • Give a puff and tell the person to breathe in and out normally for four breaths.
    • Repeat in quick succession until four puffs have been given.

    To those who are aware of their asthmatic condition, it is advised to carry an inhaler everywhere you go – it is your first aid for asthma attacks.

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    References

    http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_WhatIs.html

    http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/content/view/281/572/