There are nearly 6 million people in the UK with asthma. Although management and treatment of asthma is very good, we should not forget that it is a life threatening condition.

Over 1,500 people die in the UK of asthma each year.

When an asthmatic is exposed to a trigger, it causes tightening or swelling of the airway, making breathing very difficult. Triggers can include, dust, pollen, pollution and smoke. Attacks can also be triggered by illness or infection, exposure to chemicals, exercise, or stress. Asthma may be worse at night time.

Possible Signs and Symptoms:

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  • Wheezy breathing (especially when breathing out)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Exhaustion
  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Distressed and anxious
  • Difficulty in talking
  • Signs and symptoms of hypoxia (low oxygen)


  • Get the casualty sitting upright. If they are weak, they could lean onto something, but do not allow them to ‘curl up’ or lay down.
  • Reassure the casualty to relieve anxiety but do not encourage them to talk back.
  • Keep the casualty in the environment they are in (unless in danger or it is making breathing worse). Moving the casualty to an environment with a different temperature (such as outside or an air conditioned room) may make breathing more difficult.
  • Get the casualty to take their medication as instructed. Asthmatics should carry a blue reliever inhaler (other colours are usually preventer inhalers). They should be able to take this themselves, but the first aider can assist them if needed, especially if weak or exhausted.
  • They may use a spacer or chamber to make the medication more effective.
  • Usually they would take a puff every 30 – 60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  • Be prepared to use your emergency plan.
  • Call 999 if the casualty does not improve after taking their inhaler, or you are unsure or worried.

A child should not usually take medication which they have not been prescribed, however if the child has an identical prescription, for the same medication, then common sense would suggest that taking it would be the best course of action in a life threatening situation. Schools are now allowed to hold ‘Emergency Inhalers’ that are not belonging to individuals – read this blog to find out more. Department of Health Guidelines 2015.

If a first aider believes that their workplace policy is not correct they should seek guidance from an organisation such as Asthma UK.


Richard Craddock

Richard is the Managing Director at SkillBase First Aid

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