Asthma is a relatively common condition in Australia, with around one in every ten people living with it on a daily basis.
With so many people potentially at risk of having an asthma attack, it makes sense that you should learn how to help them.
Asthma is a lung condition, and people who have asthma deal with sensitive airways in their lungs that react to what they call ‘triggers’. These triggers can cause ‘flare-ups’ during which the muscles around the airway are squeezed tightly, the airways swell becoming narrow, and mucus production increases. All these things together make it hard for the person suffering the flare-up to breathe, and this is known as an asthma attack.
Now asthma attacks vary in many ways. Some are more severe than others, and for each person their individual asthma triggers are different. Asthma flare-ups can come on very slowly, over hours or even days or weeks, on very quickly, in a matter or minutes.
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Symptoms of an Asthma Attack
The symptoms of an asthma attack tend to be very easy to identify, not with your eyes but by listening to the way the patient breathes, and how they describe themselves feeling. You can expect them to exhibit:
- Wheezing that increases
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
Treating A Mild To Moderate Asthma Attack
There are two ways on how to treat an asthma attack . Either your patient will be unconscious, a possibility in more extreme cases, or they will be conscious.
For An Unconscious Patient
If your patient is unconscious the only thing you can do is follow the DRSABCD protocol. That means asses the area for Danger prior to treatment, try and get a Response from the patient, Send for help, check the patient’s Airway and Breathing before beginning CPR if they are not breathing, which may escalate into use of a Defibrillator.
For A Conscious Patient
When the person you are treating is conscious, there is a lot more that you can do to assist them in controlling their asthma attack and returning their airways to normal.
1. Sit Them Up & Stay There
The first step is to get them in a seated position where they are comfortable. With narrowed airways you may find that they’re in pain, particularly in the chest and back area, so use cushions if they’re on hand to help them get comfortable. It’s important to reassure them, remaining as calm as possible. Make sure that you don’t leave them alone.
2. Action Plan
All asthmatics should have a written asthma plan, which they will either have with them or have memorised. This is particularly true for children. So once you have your patient sitting chat to them about their action plan, and how they want to move forward. Remember to be calm. If they don’t have an action plan, follow this instead.
3. Puff & Breathe
Take their blue/grey reliever (puffer) and give it a strong shake. If they have one, a spacer should also be attached. Using the reliever, give the patient four puffs. Make sure that you shake the reliever between each puff, and that the puffs are given one puff at a time with four breaths (at least) following each puff that you give. It’s good to encourage your patient to hold the reliever and administer the puffs themselves, but if they can’t you can also assist with their permission.
4. Wait For Improvement
After those four puffs, the patient may see some improvement in their breathing and the tightness in their chest. If they do not, you can repeat exactly the same process after four minutes. Make sure they take breaths in between each puff, and that they’re focused on the correct use of their reliever.
When There’s No Improvement:
If after repeating the process there is still no improvement in the patient, the asthma attack may be too far advanced for the reliever to have had any effect. This means it’s time to call an ambulance. Ring Triple Zero (000) and inform the dispatcher that someone is having an asthma attack. While you wait for the ambulance to arrive, you need to continue giving four puffs every four minutes, in the same pattern as before, and do not leave the patient.
For Severe Asthma Attacks
In most cases for mild and moderate asthma attacks, you will be able to provide first aid to the patient without the assistance of a medical professional. However, it’s important that you remember if your patient is suffering a severe asthma attack they need urgent medical care and Triple Zero (000) must be called. A severe asthma attack usually presents with the following symptoms:
- Worsening of regular symptoms over short time
- Severe shortness of breath
- Cannot speak comfortably
- No improvement after use of inhaler or reliever
- Blue tinge in lips
What other treatments do you know to prevent asthma attacks?
For More Information: All First Aid information in this article was sourced from the St. John Ambulance Australia website. You can read more about First Aid treatments and courses here. Remember that in an emergency always dial Triple Zero (000) for assistance.