FIRST AID: How to help someone having an asthma attack

St John Ambulance gives advice on how to help someone having an asthma attack
St John Ambulance gives advice on how to help someone having an asthma attack

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St John Ambulance, the nation’s leading first aid charity, has teamed up with The News to bring you some simple, but life-saving, first aid tips.

During an asthma attack, the muscles of the air passages in the lungs go into spasm. As a result, the airways become narrowed, which makes breathing more difficult. Sometimes there is a recognised trigger for an attack, such as a cold, a drug, cigarette smoke or an allergy. At other times, there is no obvious trigger.

What to look for

1. Difficulty breathing

2. Wheezing and coughing

3. Distressed and anxious

4. Difficulty speaking, shown through short sentences and whispering

5. Signs of hypoxia such as grey -blue tinge to the lips, earlobes and nailbeds

6. In a severe attack – exhaustion

What to do:

1. Reassure the casualty and ask them to take their usual dose of their reliever inhaler. Ask them to breathe slowly and deeply. If they have a spacer available, ask them to use it with their inhaler. The inhaler is more effective with a spacer when being used for young children. If they have no inhaler call 999 or 112 for emergency help.

2. Sit them down in a comfortable position.

3. A mild attack will normally ease after a few minutes. However, if they don’t improve within a few minutes, it may be a severe attack. Ask them to take one to two puffs of their inhaler every two minutes, until they’ve had 10 puffs.

4. If the attack is severe, and they are getting worse, becoming exhausted, or if this is their first attack, call 999 or 112 for emergency help.

5. Help the casualty to use their inhaler if they need to. Monitor their breathing and level of response. If they become unresponsive at any point, prepare to give CPR.

For more free first aid advice, go to or download the free St John Ambulance first aid app on the app store.