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First Aid for Asthma Attack/Exacerbation

Asthma is a chronic disease involving airflow obstruction that is reversible. This can result in difficulty of air movement in and out of the lungs. During an Asthma Attack or Exacerbation, the airways are inflamed, causing acute swelling and narrowing, leading to the symptoms.


A severe Asthma Attack should be evaluated by a trained medical professional, as soon as possible! DO NOT wait! Failure to obtain evaluation as soon as possible may result in serious injury or death. Call 911 (or your local emergency number) immediately, if you are experiencing acute Asthma Attack.

What is Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

  • Asthma is a chronic disease involving airflow obstruction that is reversible. This can result in difficulty of air movement in and out of the lungs.
  • During an Asthma Attack or Exacerbation, the airways are inflamed, causing acute swelling and narrowing, leading to the symptoms.

What are the Causes of Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

The cause factors for Asthma Attack/Exacerbation could include:

  • Exposure to allergens like pollens, pets, strong odors, chemicals, and smoke, including tobacco
  • Exercise
  • Changes in weather, seasonal allergies
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Extremely cold and dry air

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

The signs and symptoms of Asthma Attack/Exacerbation include:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath, breathing difficulties
  • Coughing, which may cause sleep disturbance
  • Increased heart rate and rate of breathing

How is First Aid administered for Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

First Aid tips for Asthma Attack/Exacerbation include:

  • Sit the person upright and loosen tight clothing
  • If available, follow instructions of the ‘asthma action plan’, written by the individual’s physician
  • Help administer asthma medication, through an inhaler or nebulizer
  • Have the person breath slowly with lips sealed around inhaler, breathing deeply through the mouth with each slow steady puff
  • If the person does not have an inhaler; use one from a First Aid kit or simply borrow one
  • Keep the person breathing slowly and deeply, every 5-7 seconds
  • Administer four puffs with an inhaler until the patient’s condition improves, or four more minutes passes
  • Monitor the person until help arrives

Who should administer First Aid for Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

  • The person suffering for Asthma themselves or anyone nearby can begin to administer First Aid
  • But if the person is unable to talk, is turning blue, or their condition is not improving, call 911 immediately

What is the Prognosis of Asthma Attack/Exacerbation?

  • Asthma Exacerbation typically improves as long as the Asthma Attack victim receives timely medical treatment
  • But the disease is chronic and recurrences are common
  • Some may require hospitalization and intubation

How can Asthma Attack/Exacerbation be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Asthma Attack:

  • Avoid known allergens
  • Use an inhaler before exercise or exposure, which could cause an attack
  • Be consistent in taking Asthma maintenance medications
  • Inform daycare personnel and school staff about kids Asthma condition; provide an Asthma action plan to appropriate staff members/teachers

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Following individual Asthma action plan
  • Carrying rescue inhaler at all times
  • Timely administration of rescue inhaler (albuterol;  also known as proventil, ventolin)
  • Seeking medical attention appropriately

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
611 East Wells St. Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 272-6071
Toll-Free: (800) 822-2762
Website: http://www.aaaai.org

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI)
85 West Algonquin Road Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Phone: (847) 427-1200
Fax: (847) 427-1294
Email: mail@acaai.org
Website: http://www.acaai.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/DS00021 (accessed on 6/8/2013)

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/asthma.html (accessed on 6/8/2013)

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Bjornsdottir, U. S., Holgate, S. T., Reddy, P. S., Hill, A. A., McKee, C. M., Csimma, C. I., ... & Ellis, D. K. (2011). Pathways activated during human asthma exacerbation as revealed by gene expression patterns in blood. PloS one, 6(7), e21902.

Li, M., Zhang, Q., Shi, W. J., Li, L., Li, Y., Pang, Y., ... & Jiang, H. (2013). Epidemiological survey and analysis of asthma in children aged 0-14 years old in urban and rural areas of Chengdu region. Translational pediatrics, 2(4), 160.

Fueyo, A., Ruiz, M. A., Ancochea, J., Guilera, M., Badia, X., & ESCASE Group. (2007). Asthma control in Spain. Do season and treatment pattern matter? The ESCASE study. Respiratory medicine, 101(5), 919-924.

Korang, S. K., Feinberg, J., Wetterslev, J., & Jakobsen, J. C. (2016). Non-invasive positive pressure ventilation for acute asthma in children. status and date: Edited (no change to conclusions), published in, (1).

Haahtela, T. (2014). 27 Managing Asthma and Allergy. Clinical Asthma: Theory and Practice, 277.

Crossingham, I., Evans, D. J., Halcovitch, N. R., & Marsden, P. A. (2017). Stepping down the dose of inhaled corticosteroids for adults with asthma. The Cochrane Library.

Chan, C. K., Kuo, M. L., Yeh, K. W., Ou, L. S., Chen, L. C., Yao, T. C., & Huang, J. L. (2009). Sequential evaluation of serum monocyte chemotactic protein 1 among asymptomatic state and acute exacerbation and remission of asthma in children. Journal of Asthma, 46(3), 225-228.

Awasthi, S., Gupta, S., Maurya, N., Tripathi, P., Dixit, P., & Sharma, N. (2012). Environmental risk factors for persistent asthma in Lucknow. The Indian Journal of Pediatrics, 79(10), 1311-1317.