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Be prepared in the event of an asthma attack

12 January 2016
Be prepared in the event of an asthma attack

While on a 2.4km run near Coogee beach in Sydney a few years ago, professional rugby player Issac Luke came across a teammate having an asthma attack. At the time Luke didn’t know the correct steps to take. “I ran past him and stopped, but didn’t know what to do for him. I’ve now learnt how to carry out first aid for someone having an asthma attack. Anyone could come across someone gasping for breath, so it’s really important to know what to do,” says Luke.

Asthma attacks occur when the airways in the lungs tighten, partially close up, swell inside and make more mucus. This makes it harder to breathe in and even harder to breathe out. “An asthma attack is very scary. It feels like you’re breathing through a straw, and then you close up the end of the straw so air can’t come in," says Teresa Demetriou from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ.

“If you see someone having an asthma attack, the first thing you need to do is to stay calm, because it’s very likely they’ll be panicking when they can’t breathe. If you panic, so will they and that will make their asthma worse.”

“Assess the person having the attack. Signs of a severe asthma attack are being distressed, gasping for breath, difficulty speaking two words and blueness around the mouth. If you see someone with these symptoms, call an ambulance immediately by dialling 111.”

“Be very calm and sit them down. If they have their reliever inhaler, give them six puffs of the inhaler for severe and moderate asthma. If a spacer is available, use this together with the inhaler as this will deliver more medication to the lungs. Stay with the person having the attack and give them reassurance.”

“If the patient doesn’t show signs of improvement after six minutes, and if you haven't done so already, call an ambulance. Continue to give them six puffs of the reliever inhaler every six minutes until the ambulance arrives. In this situation you don’t have to worry about overdosing the person by giving the medication this frequently.”

“However if the patient improves from the medication, and becomes free of wheeze, cough and breathlessness, stop giving the reliever, and let the patient rest and monitor them as symptoms may return. The patient must seek medical advice as soon as possible," says Teresa.

Research shows that people who follow Asthma Action Plans control their asthma better than those who don't. The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ released new Asthma Action Plans for adults in November 2016. Now is good time for adults with asthma to visit their GP and put a new plan in place.

Your asthma is under control when:

You don’t have asthma symptoms most days (wheeze, tight chest, a cough or feeling breathlessness).
You have no cough or wheeze at night.
You can do all your usual activities and exercise freely.
Most days you don’t need a reliever.

ENDS

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