Asthma attack
Signs, symptoms and what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
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Written by Sonder Health
Updated over a week ago

Asthma first aid is essential when someone is having an asthma flare-up.

When someone is experiencing an asthma flare-up, symptoms can become life-threatening. For instance, an individual may find it hard to breathe, continuously cough, have a wheeze or a tight chest. These symptoms can develop rapidly, over hours, days or even weeks, therefore it is crucial to follow an updated action plan.

Additionally, our team of trained nurses and medical professionals are always available to help you whenever you need advice on what to do so you’ll never have to worry.

In addition to support being available 24/7 through the Sonder app, here’s a guide on everything you need to do and what to keep an eye out for regarding asthma attacks.

Signs and symptoms

Mild to moderate asthma attacks will likely show the following signs:

  • Increasingly soft to loud wheeze

  • Able to talk in full sentences

  • May have a cough or wheeze

  • Minor to obvious difficulty breathing

Serious asthma attacks and emergencies will show the following signs:

• Symptoms get worse very quickly

• Little or no relief from inhaler

• Severe shortness of breath, focused only on breathing

• Unable to speak normally

• Pallor, sweating

• Progressively more anxious, subdued or panicky

• Blue lips, face, earlobes, fingernails

• Loss of consciousness

What to do

How to give medication

Administering aid for asthma attacks follows the four steps of asthma first aid known as ‘4x4x4’ and requires an asthma puffer. Use a spacer if one is available.

A spacer is used to make it easier for people with asthma to inhale their medicine. It is a plastic container with a mouthpiece at one end and a hole for the inhaler at the other.

1. Give 4 separate puffs of blue/grey reliever puffer: • Shake the inhaler • Give 1 puff • Take 4 breaths • Repeat until 4 puffs have been given.

2. Wait 4 minutes.
3. If there is no improvement, give 4 more separate puffs of blue/grey reliever as above.

4. If the patient still cannot breathe normally, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. 5. Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes (as above) until medical aid arrives.

What to do when you don’t have an inhaler

  1. Sit upright. Bending over or lying down can constrict your breathing even more.

  2. Take long, deep breaths. This helps to slow down your breathing and prevent hyperventilation. Breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

  3. Try to stay as calm as possible. This may prevent further tightening of your chest muscles and make your breathing easier.

  4. Get away from the trigger. The asthma attack could be triggered by dust, cigarette smoke or the smell of certain chemicals. Remove yourself from the trigger as soon as possible and go to an air-conditioned environment or any place with clean air if possible.

  5. If the wheezing, coughing, and breathing difficulty do not subside after a period of rest, seek immediate medical attention.

Self-help advice

There are several things you can do to prevent or help minimise the effects of an asthma attack:

  1. Use your medication exactly as prescribed

  2. Use a spacer. This makes it easier to take asthma medication and get it straight to where it’s needed in your lungs.

  3. Don’t smoke.

  4. Exercise regularly.

  5. Stay away from known asthma triggers, such as smoke, pollen, dust mites, specific animals etc.

  6. Have a Written Asthma Plan ready in case of an asthma attack or flare up.

  7. Have a Sick Day Plan ready.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Information sourced from St John Ambulance Australia.

Image credit: Asthma Australia, Luci at Pexels

All content in Sonder's Help Centre is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice.

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