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What to do if someone is having an asthma attack?

Watching someone you know and care for struggle with their breathing can be a very upsetting experience. In these cases, it's fair to say that you might find yourself wondering what to do if someone has an asthma attack – including whether you are over-reacting or even not worrying enough.

Not to mention that, without being able to feel what they're going through, it's hard to put words to the severity of the issue. That's why we've created this complete guide to let you know what you should do if you see someone having an asthma attack.

How Do I Know If Someone Is Having An Asthma Attack?

The first thing you'll need to do if you think someone is having an asthma attack is to ascertain whether this is actually the case. The most common symptoms of an asthma attack are:

  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • A tightness around the chest and neck

Not all of these symptoms need to be present co-currently in order to indicate an asthma attack. Of course, if you know the person suffering has asthma, then you might already be aware that an asthma attack is occurring, without this list of symptoms.

Caution: If you know the person is on a MART or SMART regime, the information presented on this page is not suitable for people on MART regimes.

What To Do If Someone Has An Asthma Attack

The symptoms of an asthma attack may cause anxiety and panic to both the sufferer and observer – especially for young children or if this is your first asthma attack. So, it's important to remain calm and try to be objective about the situation. Panicking is more likely to cause an anxious response, which can make the attack worse.

In the first instance, you should always seek to administer their medication as prescribed by their doctor and pharmacist. If there is a reliever inhaler present, then one or two puffs on their reliever inhaler (which is usually blue) should help to ease the symptoms.

Encourage the person who is suffering with an asthma attack to sit down but sit up straight. Sitting up straight helps to provide a clear and direct airway for breathing to pass through. A good way to ensure they sit upright is to sit the wrong way around on a standard chair, with their chest against the backrest.

Check to see if they are feeling restricted by their clothing. Buttoned shirts and tight-fitting tops are prone to creating the feeling of tightness which can often lead to raised anxiety levels during an asthma attack – especially when their chest and breathing already feels restricted. If this is the case, then loosen the clothes while ensuring that they still feel safe, warm and comfortable.

Encourage them to take slow, steady breaths. As much as they may want to try to gasp as much air in as possible, with each breath, this can be counter-intuitive. Panicking can make your breathing more laboured, leading to sufferers feeling worse, while slow, steady breathing is proven to help calm the mind. Once your mind has settled, the attack will likely soon pass.

Once the attack has passed, encourage them to make an appointment with their GP. Let them know that an asthma attack has occurred and that you will need an appointment within 48 hours. You should also allow the sufferer to rest and recuperate from the ordeal.

Read more: What to do after an asthma attack?

When To Call An Ambulance During An Asthma Attack

If there is no improvement, the person suffering from the attack can take more puffs of the reliever inhaler every 30 to 60 seconds, depending on how they feel. You can take a maximum of up to 10 puffs before requiring further help. If they don't feel any better after 10 puffs, or if they don't have their reliever inhaler nearby, then it is time to call an ambulance.

If you feel that you are unable to provide help or find yourself extremely anxious, don't be afraid for calling for help from 111 or 999 (if appropriate). The responders on the phone will be able to give you clear directions to help.

If you find yourself in the position of needing to know what to do if someone has an asthma attack, always remember the basics. The three main things to remember are: Remain calm and encourage the person having the attack to remain calm, don't be afraid to call for help when you feel it is necessary and try to follow a treatment plan as closely as possible.





Authored & Reviewed By

Mohamed Imran Lakhi

MPharm - Lead Pharmacist
Imran Lakhi is the superintendent pharmacist and founder at Prescription Doctor. He has been at the core of our team.

Published on: 24/10/2019 Reviewed on: 11/06/2021
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