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First Aid Basics: “Dealing with an Asthma Attack”

July 24, 2012

Asthma is a medical condition that affects the airways. When someone has an attack, the muscles in the tubes narrow making it difficult to breathe in and out.

An inhaler relaxes the muscles, allowing the air passages to expand and ease the person’s breathing.

A person having an attack will have difficulty breathing and speaking, and may cough and wheeze. With this anxiousness and distress will arise, while they continue to struggle.

(If this person already knows that they have asthma, they will know how to manage their condition, and should be able to let you know if they are having an attack.)

What do I do:

  •  Help the person sit in a comfortable position and help them take their medication.
  •  Continually reassure and calm the person.

(A mild attack should ease within a few minutes.)

  •  If the attack does not ease, or the inhaler has no effect- contact an emergency provider immediately.   

When should I call an emergency number:

  •  It is their first attack;
  • They do not have an inhaler on them;
  • They stop breathing;
  • Talking becomes difficult;
  • They are becoming exhausted;
  • Their medication has no effect;
  • They don’t have any medication with them. 

What happens if they STOP BREATHING?

1. Tilt their head backwards and look and feel for breathes.  Look at their chest to do this. (When a person is unconscious their muscles relax, and their tongue can block the airway. Tilting their head backwards opens the airway by pulling the tongue forward.)

2. At some point urgently have someone contact an emergency medical service provider.

3. If no breaths are felt, start chest compressions.

  • Place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest, and the heel of the other hand on top of the first, lacing your fingers together.
  • Push firmly downwards in the middle of the chest and then release. Push hard and fast. (This keeps blood pumping around their body and helps keep the vital organs alive. It may also dislodge an airway obstruction.)
  • Let the chest rise completely before pushing down again.
  • Push at a rate of 100 compressions per minute until help arrives.
  • Breathing into their mouth or nose adds oxygen in their lungs. (The combination of continuous cycles of 30 chest compressions followed by two breaths is called CPR- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation.)
  • Keep going  until help arrives.

You may not see any visible change in the person’s condition, but don’t give up. Chest compressions significantly increase the possibility of the person being successfully resuscitated when the emergency services turn up.

Please remember that these “First Aid Basics” are merely guidelines, and we do recommend that everyone attends a basic First Aid Course. In most instances, time is crucial and often will be the determining factor in whether someone will survive or not.  

Time saves lives, Helivac saves both!

“Helivac is a complete emergency medical solution comprising affordable air medical transportation with advanced, rapid response medical care and state of the art equipment for all members through a single emergency number: 0861 HELIVAC (South Africa)”

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