Recognising & Treating an Asthma Attack

Recognising and treating an asthma attack

When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways (an asthma trigger), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell. Sometimes sticky mucus or phlegm builds up which can further narrow the airways.

The illustration above shows a cross section of the airways, with and without inflammation.

All these reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated - making it difficult to breath and leading to symptoms of asthma.

  • 5.2m people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • 1.1m children in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • There is a person with asthma in one in five households in the UK."

Asthmatics generally use two different types of inhaler to manage and treat the condition. A brown inhaler contains a preventative medication and a blue inhaler contains a reliever medication.  Asthmatics usually only call for assistance when they have taken their reliever medication and they have not had the relief from the symptoms that they would normally expect.

Reference: Asthma UK

What do you see?

  • A dry, unproductive cough
  • Difficulty in breathing-especially out
  • Wheezing as they breathe out
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Difficulty in talking
  • Distress and anxiety
  • Possible loss of consciousness

What do you do?

  • Any treatment should be aimed at easing the casualty's breathing and calling for assistance if required
  • Rest and reassure the casualty whilst sitting them down, ideally leaning slightly forward
  • Encourage the casualty to self medicate, improvise a nebuliser if there are having problems co-ordinating an inbreath with a puff off medication

Medication should relieve the symptoms of the attack within a few minutes. If there is no relief help them to self-medicate again every 5-10 minutes.

When should i call an ambulance?

  • If the medication is not working after five minutes
  • If the condition is getting worse
  • If talking is becoming more difficult
  • If they start to become exhausted
  • If you are at all unsure

Asthma can lead to unconsciousness and stoppage of breathing. You must be prepared to resuscitate using the ABC accident procedure.

Advice for Schools - Asthma Policy

From September 2014, schools in England will have to meet a duty to support children with medical conditions, including anaphylaxis, and follow statutory guidance issued by the Department for Education. The statutory guidance and further signposting are available to read online here.

The Medical Conditions at Schools website is a great source of information.