In the UK there are 5.4 million people currently receiving treatment for asthma, a condition that can be triggered by allergies such as hay fever.
In an asthma attack the muscles of the air passages in the lungs go into spasm and the linings of the airways swell. As a result, the airways become narrowed and breathing becomes difficult.
When someone suffers an asthma attack they will have difficulty breathing, wheezing when breathing out, difficulty speaking and whispering, distress, anxiety and coughing.
There may also be signs of hypoxia, a condition which occurs when there is insufficient oxygen in the body tissue, such as a blue-grey tinge to the lips, earlobes and nail-beds.
People with asthma usually deal well with their own attacks by using a blue reliever inhaler.
However, the casualty might need some assistance or might be having an asthma attack for the first time and your aims during an attack are to ease the breathing and, if necessary, get medical help.
If the casualty is an asthma sufferer, follow these steps:
• Keep the casualty calm and reassure them.
• If they have a blue reliever inhaler then encourage them to use it. Children may have a spacer device and you should encourage them to use that with their inhaler also. It should relieve the attack within a few minutes.
• Encourage the casualty to breathe slowly and deeply.
• Encourage the casualty to sit in a position that they find most comfortable, often leaning forward with arms resting on a table or the back of a chair. Do not lie the casualty down.
• A mild asthma attack should ease within three minutes but if it doesn’t encourage the casualty to use their inhaler again.
If this is the first attack, or if the attack is severe and any one of the following occurs:
• The inhaler has no effect after five minutes.
• The casualty is becoming worse.
• Breathlessness makes talking difficult.
• The casualty becomes exhausted.
Dial 999/112 for emergency help. Encourage the casualty to use their inhaler every five to ten minutes.
Monitor and record the breathing and pulse rate every ten minutes.
If the casualty becomes unconscious open the airway and check breathing.
• For those looking for quick, easily accessible first aid information, the St John Ambulance app is available free on smartphones and the website (www.sja.org.uk) offers demo videos, an interactive game, and lots of free advice. For more information about first aid courses please call 0303 003 0101.
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