Asthma is a common life-threatening condition and its severity is often not recognised. Asthma is a medical condition characterised by intermittent, reversible airway obstruction.
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways (an asthma trigger), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and start to swell. Sometimes sticky mucus or phlegm builds up and can further narrow the airways. All these reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated – making it difficult to breathe and leading to symptoms of asthma.
Asthma is a common condition and it has varying levels of severity from mild to near fatal. Around 2000 people die a year as a result of Asthma.
• 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
• 1.1 million children in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
• There is a person with asthma in one in five households in the UK.
The signs and symptoms of a moderate Asthma attack include breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, distress, anxiety and exhaustion.
Where asthma is classified as severe, the patient will need professional help as they will need to be given a nebuliser and steroids.
Life-threatening Asthma has the following signs and symptoms, altered levels of conscious, cyanosis (blue colour in the lips and extremities indicating a lack of oxygen), hypotension, exhaustion, poor respiratory effort, peak flow of less than 33%, blood Oxygen levels of less than 92% and a silent chest. If you see any of these, call EMS as soon as possible.
Sometimes, no matter how careful they are about taking their medicines and avoiding triggers, they may have an asthma attack.
There are different medications for the treatment and management of Asthma.
Asthma sufferers usually carry two types of inhaler:
- Brown – which is the preventative
- Blue – for the treatment of an attack
When someone has an asthma attack it can be very frightening for the patient and they may have their own way of dealing with the attack. Sometimes all you can really do is to get their inhaler for them and reassure them. If you interfere too much they may seem angry but they are fighting to breathe and the last thing they need is a first aider telling them what to do when they already know.
The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults and are the recommended steps to follow in an asthma attack. As a first aider, we encourage the patient to use the inhaler, we do not usually do it for them.
Try and find a history of the patient in relation to the previous 6 to 48 hours prior to the attack. This information may be of help to the paramedics if things get worse.
1. Find their reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately after you recognize they are having an attack.
2 Sit them down and ensure that any tight clothing is loosened. Do not lie down. In mild cases, they may prefer to stand to initially take their medication.
3 If no immediate improvement during an attack, they should continue to take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute for five minutes until symptoms improve.
4 If their symptoms do not improve in five minutes – or you are in doubt – call 999 or a doctor urgently.
5 They should continue to take one puff of their reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives.
Do not be afraid of causing a fuss, even at night. If they are admitted to hospital or an accident and emergency department because of their asthma, make sure they take details of their medicines with them as the Doctors will need to know what has been prescribed and what has been taken.
In most cases, the inhaler will deal with the attack and they will soon start feeling better but if you do not see signs of improvement or if they get worse, activate the emergency medical services as soon as possible, even if the patient says they do not want to make a fuss. It is better to be seen by a Doctor to ensure they are ok and do not need further care.
If you were looking after someone’s child and they had an asthma attack while in your care, make sure you tell them and you record any case of asthma that you treat in the accident book or in work records.