A small girl with a pink hat is puffing on an inhaler.

What to do if you are with someone having an Asthma Attack.

It can be very frightening to watch  someone having an asthma attack.  They may be wheezing, or struggling for breath and panicking that they cannot get enough air. In severe attacks, their lips and ear lobes may go blue. People  describe an asthma attack  as if they were ‘breathing through a straw’, or even in some cases as if ‘suffocating’, ‘choking’ or ‘drowning’. They described ‘struggling’ or ‘fighting’ for air. One young man said it felt as though he’d lost half his lungs, as though the air is only going down half way and he’s only getting half the air that he needs.

If you are with someone who is having an attack, especially children,   you need to stay calm, hard as it might be, because panic makes the breathing even harder.  You need to reassure them that everything will be fine and then try to find their inhaler if they have one, and help them sit upright in a comfortable position.

Asthma is a condition that is caused by an allergic reaction in the lungs, this is often a substance such as dust, traffic fumes or animal hair.   The muscles that surround the wind pipes in the lungs go into spasm and constrict which makes breathing difficult.

The severity of an asthma attack can vary greatly, and in some cases attacks can become life threatening and even fatal. The National Review of Asthma Deaths (NRAD) reports that the numbers of people affected by asthma in the UK is among the highest in the world, with up to 5.4 million people receiving asthma treatment.
Most asthma attacks pass within minutes and are not as bad as they sound, but if they have  severe breathing difficulties, especially if there is a blue tinge around the lips or the inhaler isn’t having an effect, call an ambulance.
Common signs and symptoms

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Wheezy breathing sounds which come from the lungs
  • Difficulty in speaking (they might need to take a breath in-between words)
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Grey or blue lips and skin (if the attack is severe)
  • Using the muscles in the neck and the upper part of the chest to help them breathe
  • They may become exhausted if the attack is severe
  • They may become unconscious and stop breathing if it is a long attack.



  • Sit them upright and lean them on the table or chair if needed
  • Help them use their inhaler – this can be repeated every few minutes if the attack does not ease off
  • Talk to them and reassure them
  • If the attack does not seem to ease and looks as if it is getting worse call 999/112 for emergency help
  • Cold air cold can exasperate the attack so keep them inside.
  • Keep them upright and only lay them down if they become unconscious.
  • If they stop breathing start CPR

For more information about Asthma go to: https://www.asthma.org.uk/

Safe and Sound cover Asthma in its first aid courses. For more information go to: www.safeandsound.uk.net