First aid charity issues advice on how to deal with asthma attacks

St John Ambulance staff at work. Picture: St John Ambulance.

St John Ambulance staff at work. Picture: St John Ambulance. - Credit: Archant

St John Ambulance in the East Region has teamed up with The Journal to give some simple but life saving first aid tips. This week is about asthma attacks.

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 difficult. Sometimes there is a recognised trigger for an attack, such as an allergy, a cold or a particular drug or cigarette smoke. At other times, there is no obvious trigger. Many sufferers have sudden attacks.

What to look for:

If you think someone is having an asthma attack, there are the five key things you may notice: They have difficulty breathing or speaking; Wheezing; Coughing; They are in distress; There may be a grey-blue tinge to the lips, earlobes and nailbeds (known as cyanosis).

What you need to do:

You may also want to watch:

First, reassure them and ask them to try to breathe slowly and deeply, which will help them to control their breathing.

Help them use their reliever inhaler straight away. Tell them to use a spacer if they have one. This helps to ensure more of the inhaler medicine reaches the lungs. This should help to ease the attack.

Most Read

Next, sit them down in a comfortable position. If they don't get better within a few minutes, it may be a severe attack. Get them to take one or two puffs of their inhaler every two minutes, until they've had 10 puffs.

If the attack is severe and they are getting worse or becoming exhausted, or if this is their first attack, call 999/112 for emergency help. Help them to keep using their inhaler if they need to. Keep checking their breathing, pulse and check that they are still responding to you.

If they become unresponsive at any point, open their airway, check their breathing and prepare to treat someone who's become unresponsive.

For those looking for quick, easily accessible first aid information, the St John Ambulance app is available free on smartphones and the website ( offers demo videos, an interactive game, and lots of free advice.

For more information about first aid courses please call 08700 10 49 50.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter