Top Videos

How do I Help Someone Who's Having an Asthma Attack?

Stay calm!

Each year, about half of the population who suffers with asthma experiences what is called an asthma attack.

The first thing you need to do in order to help someone having an asthma attack is stay calm. If you know that someone is an asthmatic and that they’re prone to having asthma attacks, the next thing you want to do is reassure them and make sure they’re not having any serious symptoms that require emergency attention. For instance, if someone is having an asthma attack and you notice that they’re turning blue or that they’re really not able to speak properly, those would be signs of a very severe asthma attack. Someone who’s able to converse with you or have a cohesive conversation may be short of breath, but they may not be experiencing a serious problem. 

If the attack is severe

If you find that someone is having a severe episode or a severe asthma attack, you would want to get them to a doctor or an emergency room immediately. If it's necessary, call 911. If someone is turning blue, it's a sure sign that this asthma attack is seriously blocking the airways and not enough oxygen in entering the respiratory system. Another clear sign the the attack is more serious than normal is if the person is not able to speak clearly or have a cohesive conversation.

Asthma is extremely variable. We always look at how it affects the individual. There’s no statistical time frame for how long an asthma attack lasts. Some are milder ones that you can manage at home and others require treatment at the hospital.

How to help

During a bout of asthma, patients find it easier to breathe while sitting up than lying down. So, help them get into a comfortable sitting position. Many asthma patients carry not only an inhaler, but a written instruction card for severe cases. An asthma attack can temporarily rob the patient of his or her ability to speak. In such situations, an instruction card explaining what needs to be done can be invaluable. If there is such a card, just do as it says. Help the asthmatic use the inhaler. An inhaler is designed to deliver a specific dose of asthma medication. The medication relaxes the person’s airways and helps restore normal breathing. Medication is so important that in case the person doesn't have his or her inhaler available, most doctors say that it is okay to use someone else's. The right medication is key in relieving an asthma attack.

Using an inhaler

In general, you should give two to four puffs of the inhaler and then wait about five minutes to give the next dose. Position the mouthpiece of the inhaler between the person’s lips. Let them know when you are about to give a puff, so that he or she can breathe in at the same time. Wait for several seconds before you deliver another puff, or until they let you know they are ready for the next one. You can use a spacer to help the person inhale the medicine over the course of several breaths, instead of one breath. This device sits between the inhaler and the person's mouth, and can hold the medicine in place between breaths. If a spacer is not available, you can make one by rolling up some paper to create a tube. The medication will help prevent the asthma attack from getting worse even if it doesn't seem to provide immediate relief. If it appears that they are not responding to the medication within ten minutes, call an ambulance, but still continue to deliver about four puffs of medication every five minutes while waiting for the ambulance.

Helping a person who is experiencing an asthma attack can be so important. You can make a huge difference by providing support for the person's mental and physical well-being. It can be very scary and stressful for someone to have an asthma attack, especially if they are alone.