You’re at the playground with your children when one of their friends stops mid-game, hunched over and trying to catch his breath. You’re having coffee with a friend when she starts having trouble breathing and looks panic-stricken. Your son yells from the other room in a panic that his friend can’t breathe. Do you know how to deal with someone having an asthma attack? How you react in each of those situations could save someone’s life. If you are with someone and suspect (or they tell you) that they are having an asthma attack, here are some important things to remember.
1. Stay calm. As scary as it is to watch someone struggle for breath, it’s even scarier for the person having the asthma attack. Even worse, the more the person panics, the harder it is for them to breathe. By speaking and doing things calmly, you can help reassure them that everything is under control, and THAT can make it easier for them to let you know what they need. Remaining calm is one of the most important things to know about how to deal with someone having an asthma attack. If you panic, you can’t help – and it could just make them even more scared.
2. Ask. Most people with asthma have an asthma management plan and know exactly what they need to do – and what they need you to do. Ask:
Do you have an inhaler?
Where is your inhaler?
Does anyone have an inhaler?
Do you need me to call help?
If they have a written instruction card (many people keep one with their inhaler in case they can’t tell people what to do), follow the instructions on the card.
3. Assist them to sit up. Sitting up comfortably can help relieve some of the symptoms of an acute asthma attack. It’s also much easier to take medication that way.
4. Help them take their medicine if you need to. A rescue inhaler is a device that delivers a measured dose of medicine that helps relax the bronchial airway. If the person does not have or can’t find their own rescue inhaler, most doctors agree that it’s acceptable to use someone else’s – the rescue inhaler is the single most important step in helping to stop an asthma attack. To use:
Give 2-4 puffs of the inhaler and wait five minutes. It’s important that all the medicine in the puff gets inhaled into the lungs. Place the inhaler mouthpiece between the person’s lips, and cue them when you’re about to give a puff so that they can be ready to take a breath at the same time. Wait between each puff until the person indicates that they’re ready for another – or at least give them a few seconds to prepare for the next puff.
Use a spacer to be sure they get all the medicine. A spacer is a tube that fits between the inhaler and the mouth. It can hold the medicine in one place so that the person having an asthma attack can inhale it over the space of several breaths instead of one. If they don’t have a spacer, you can make a makeshift one out of a tube of rolled up paper.
5. Monitor. Once an inhaler has been located and the person has taken the number of puffs they’re supposed to take, remain with them. Watch to see if it gets easier for them to breathe, and continue to speak calmly to them to keep them calm.
6. Call for help. It usually takes about ten minutes for an inhaler to work. If the symptoms don’t improve within 5-10 minutes, it’s time to call an ambulance. Continue to give the person 4-6 puffs from their inhaler every five minutes while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Even if it doesn’t seem to be helping, the medication can keep things from getting worse.