People over the age of 65 are more likely to have asthma than any other age group in the UK.

The Facts

Three people die per day due to asthma and, tragically, two thirds of these deaths are preventable.

Being a potentially life-threatening condition, it is vital that everyone in contact with the asthmatic child knows the best way to quickly help quickly in an emergency. When someone is having an asthma attack; their airways go into spasm which causes tightness of the chest; the linings of the airways become inflamed and phlegm is produced further obstructing the airways and leading to severe difficulty in breathing. 

Asthma is a common long-term condition that can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. Severity varies and the symptoms can be controlled most of the time, except in some more severe cases.

What causes asthma?

Asthma is caused by inflammation of the small tubes, called bronchi, which carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma, the bronchi will be inflamed and more sensitive than normal. When you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs – known as a trigger – your airways become narrow, the muscles around them tighten, and there is an increase in the production of sticky mucus (phlegm).

How asthma is treated

While there is no cure for asthma, there are a number of treatments that can help control the condition.

Treatment is based on two important goals, which are:

         relieving symptoms

         preventing future symptoms and attacks.

Sufferers should have their prescribed asthma inhaler easily and quickly accessible at all times.

Symptoms of an asthma attack:

  • Persistent cough (when at rest) 
  • A wheezing sound coming from the chest (when at rest)
  • Difficulty breathing (fast and with effort, using all accessory muscles in the upper body)
  • Nasal flaring
  • • Unable to talk or complete sentences
  • May try to tell you that their chest ‘feels tight’


  • Appears exhausted 
  • Has a blue/white tinge around lips
  • Is going blue
  • Has collapsed

Not everyone will get all of these symptoms.

NOTE: Encouraging someone to sit upright is generally helpful when dealing with breathing problems. Sitting the wrong way round on a chair may be a good position for them as it it a good open position for their lungs and the back of the chair will give additional support.

DO NOT take them outside for fresh air if it is very cold – as cold air can make symptoms worse.


Using a spacer device delivers medication more and can help anyone achieve better control of their asthma.

Not all spacers fit all types of inhalers –the spacer prescribed with the inhaler should be used. There is considerable co-ordination required to use an inhaler without a spacer and this can lead to increased stress and worsening of symptoms.

How to help in an asthma attack

Calm the situation and reassure the casualty as this can help them to control their symptoms. Panic can increase the severity of an attack. Assist them to take one to two puffs of the reliever inhaler (usually blue) – using a spacer device if available.

  1. Sit them down, loosen any tight clothing and encourage them to take slow, steady breaths.
  2. If they do not start to feel better, they should take more puffs of their reliever inhaler (up to 10 at roughly 2 minute intervals)
  3. If there is no improvement after taking their inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999/112.
  4. They should keep taking the reliever inhaler 2 puffs every 2 minutes, whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive

Do not panic if they have taken more puffs than this. Salbutamol is a well-tested medication and the main side effects from overdosing are light headedness and a slight tremor of the hands – both of which will resolve without treatment.

After an asthma attack:

Within 48 hours of their attack, they should see their asthma nurse for an asthma review.

People often have a variety of different asthma inhalers and medication to control their asthma – if they are having an asthma attack it is the reliever inhaler that they need. Reliever inhalers are usually blue and the other inhalers are often steroid based to reduce their sensitivity to asthma inducing agents.

Air Pollution:

Just like cigarette smoke, woodfire smoke and pollen, air pollution can worsen the symptoms of asthma.

Written by Emma Hammett, founder and CEO of First Aid for Life.

Please visit, or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses and the specialist First Aid support we give to schools, nurseries and child carers.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.