First aid: Asthma – how to help

Asthma is a common condition in which their airways go into spasm and cause tightness of the chest and severe difficulty breathing when someone is exposed to something that irritates their airways.


The airways become narrow and the lining of the airways become inflamed, start to swell and can also start producing sticky mucus or phlegm which makes it even harder to breath.

What causes asthma

If there is a family history of asthma, eczema or allergies there is a higher incidence that someone could develop asthma. Research has also shown that smoking during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of a child developing asthma. Similarly, children whose parents smoke are more likely to develop asthma.

Note: Asthma UK has a great programme to help children with asthma and their parents and carers to manage their asthma and live a full and active life

Asthma can be triggered by all sorts of things:


exercise can trigger attacks in some children, however children should not avoid exercise because they are asthmatic – they should always have their reliever inhaler with them. chemicals, smoke and fumes

cold air

colds and viruses


house hold dust, fungi, moulds and pollen

some children have specific allergic triggers which bring on a major asthma attack in response to their specific allergens

Asthma sufferers will learn what triggers their particular breathing problems.

Symptoms of asthma:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • often people find it particularly difficult to breathe out and have an increase in sticky mucus and phlegm

Not everyone will get all of these symptoms. Some people experience them from time to time; a few people may experience these symptoms all the time.

asthma with volumiser

NOTE: Encouraging someone to sit upright may be helpful when dealing with breathing problems. Sitting the wrong way round on the chair may help.

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


Using a spacer device has been shown to deliver the medication much more effectively and increases the amount of the medication reaching the airways rather than hitting the back of the throat, this helps people to achieve much great control of their asthma.

There are a huge variety of shapes and sizes, but not all spacers fit all types of inhalers – use the spacer prescribed with the inhaler.

Spacers for smaller children are usually fitted with a face mask.

There is considerable co-ordination required to use an inhaler without a spacer and this can lead to increased stress and worsening of symptoms. Always keep the spacer with the inhaler and have both available at all times.

How to help in an asthma attack

The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults:

Be calm and reassuring as reducing the stress and keeping the casualty calm really helps them to control their symptoms and panic can increase the severity of an attack

  • Take one to two puffs of the reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately – using a spacer device if available.
  • Sit them down, loosen any tight clothing and encourage them to take slow, steady breaths.
  • If they do not start to feel better, they should take more puffs of their reliever inhaler
  • If they do not start to feel better after taking your inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999.
  • They should keep taking the reliever inhaler whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive

After an emergency asthma attack:

  • They should make an appointment with your doctor or asthma nurse for an asthma review, within 48 hours of their attack.

Children may 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.

Management of Asthma in a child care setting

Staff should receive regular training as to how to look after child with Asthma and there should be a specific asthma policy.

Schools, nurseries, child minders and others in a child care setting must have specific written information relating to asthmatic children in their care.

Information should include:

Medication – dosage and frequency for all inhalers and other medication

asthma inhalers

Useful Links:

Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

It is strongly advised that you attend a Practical First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

Please visit for more information about our courses. 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.

Image credits: NIH medline

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