First aid

What to do in an asthma attack

What to do if someone has an asthma atttack Don't delay

In an asthma attack, the muscles around the airways go into spasm, causing them to narrow. In addition, the lining of the airways can swell and make breathing even more difficult.


  • Difficulty breathing, particularly when breathing out
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Distress and anxiety
  • Grey/blue lips or nailbeds

If someone is having an asthma attack they will usually try to deal with it by using their "reliever" inhaler which usually has a blue cap.

Preventer inhalers have brown or white caps and should not be used.

What to do

  • Keep the person calm and reassure them
  • Get them to take a puff of their reliever inhaler
  • Ask them to breath slowly and deeply
  • Ask them to sit down in a position they feel comfortable. Do not allow them to lie down.

A mild asthma attack should ease in a few minutes. If it doesn't, ask them to take another puff of their reliever inhaler.

When to call 999

Call for an ambulance if:

  • The inhaler has no effect after five minutes
  • The person is becoming worse
  • Breathlessness makes talking difficult
  • They are becoming exhaused

This article was published on Thu 27 May 2010

Image © Ken Hurst -

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