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Asthma attacks cause the muscles of the air passages to go into spasm, making it very difficult for the sufferer to breathe, particularly to exhale. Attacks may be triggered by an allergy or by stress, for example being involved in an accident. Sometimes the cause of the attacks for a particular sufferer is never identified. There is evidence to suggest that asthma appears to be increasing in frequency, or at least in diagnosis.

Signs and symptoms

  • History of the condition (although some people may not realise that they are asthmatic and the first attack may be a very severe one)
  • Difficulty in breathing, particularly breathing out
  • Wheezing or otherwise noisy breathing
  • Inability to speak
  • Pale skin and potential blueness, particularly around the lips, caused by lack of oxygen
  • Distress, dizziness and confusion as it becomes harder to get oxygen into the body
  • Unconsciousness and then breathing stopping


An asthma attack should not be underestimated. While the preventive treatments are very effective, and the drugs to relieve attacks usually work very well, left untreated, a serious attack can be fatal. The strain of a serious asthma attack can cause the breathing to stop or the heart to cease beating. You should be prepared to resuscitate if necessary.

  1. Reassure the casualty as this will have a positive effect on his breathing.
  2. Help the casualty into a sitting position, leaning slightly forwards, as most people with asthma find this an easier position for breathing.
  3. If the casualty has medication, enable him to use it. Inhalers are the main form of treatment and are generally blue.

If this is the first attack, the medication does not work within 5 minutes or the casualty is in severe distress, then call an ambulance. Help the casualty to take medication every 5 to 10 minutes.

If the attack eases and the casualty finds it easier to breathe, he will not need immediate medical attention but should advise a doctor of the attack. A person will often be very tired following an attack so it is best to ensure that he is accompanied home to rest.

Using an inhaler

Known asthmatics are usually prescribed an inhaler, a device that administers a measured dose of drugs inhaled directly into the lungs, where it will have a near-instant effect. Inhalers for prevention are generally brown and inhalers for the relief of attacks are usually blue.

Young children may find it hard to use an ordinary aerosol inhaler and will need a spacer instead. Medication is put into the end of the spacer and the child breathes normally to take this in.

Children under the age of four will usually require a face mask to use with the spacer as they cannot coordinate their breathing to inhale the drugs.

If a member of your family is an asthmatic, make sure that everyone understands the importance of knowing where the inhaler is and that there is always enough medication in the house.

For Complete Asthma Guide

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Disclaimer: website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. Always take the advice of professional health care for specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. We will not be liable for any complications, or other medical accidents arising from the use of any information on this web site. Please note that medical information is constantly changing. Therefore some information may be out of date.