How to treat an asthma attack

How to treat an asthma attack

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

How to treat an Asthma Attack

Authored by Dr Aifric Boylan on 23.11.2018
Medically Reviewed by Dr davinder butt
Last updated on 23.11.2018

Extreme weather events, such as dust storms, thunderstorms or air pollution can cause a sudden flare up of symptoms in asthma sufferers, and may even trigger asthma attacks in people who have previously only had mild hay fever or allergies. In these weather conditions, large numbers of the population may experience asthma attacks at the same time, putting added pressure on ambulance and hospital services. So, it’s essential to know asthma first aid and for asthma sufferers to know their asthma action plan.

how to treat an asthma attack

What conditions can be treated by our online doctors?

What are the symptoms of an asthma attack?

An asthma flare-up can come on gradually over hours or days, or more suddenly over a few minutes. A severe or sudden flare up of asthma symptoms is often referred to as an asthma attack.

Mild to Moderate Asthma

A mild to moderate asthma flare up usually presents as minor difficulty breathing or chest tightness, sometimes with a cough or wheeze, but it should still be possible to move around and speak in full sentences without a problem. Asthma first aid should be started (see below)

If a person has symptoms of severe or life-threatening asthma, an ambulance should be called immediately and asthma first aid should also be started.

Severe Asthma

Symptoms of a severe asthma attack or flare-up include:

  • Obvious difficulty breathing
  • Unable to speak a full sentence in one breath
  • Cough and wheeze may be present
  • Usual reliever inhaler not working as well as usual

If these symptoms occur, call Triple Zero 000 and ask for an ambulance AND start asthma first aid (see below)

Life-threatening Asthma

Symptoms of a life-threatening asthma attack include:

  • Gasping for breath, only able to get a few words between breaths
  • Looking pale or blue
  • Collapsing/fainting
  • Confusion
  • Sometimes the wheeze and cough may stop (as the person is weakening)
  • Usual reliever inhaler not working

If these symptoms occur, call Triple Zero 000 and ask for an ambulance AND start asthma first aid (see below)

How to treat an asthma attack – Asthma First Aid

  • Sit the person upright and stay with them
  • Give 4 individual puffs of reliever inhaler (usually a blue or grey puffer labelled Salbutamol, Ventolin, Asmol or Airomir).
  • You shake the puffer, spray 1 puff into a spacer and the person takes 4 breaths via the spacer.
  • Do this 4 times in total. So it’s SHAKE, 1 PUFF, 4 BREATHS- do this 4 times.
  • If there is no spacer available, the inhaler should just be directly inhaled by mouth.
  • Wait 4 minutes (time it). If no improvement, give 4 more puffs the same way.
  • In adults, for a severe attack, 6 to 8 puffs can be given every 4 minutes.
  • Note: If the person’s reliever is Bricanyl or Symbicort, just give 2 doses, followed by 1 dose every 4 minutes.
  • If still no improvement call Triple Zero 000 (unless you’ve already done so) and ask for an ambulance, say it is an asthma emergency.
  • Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes till the ambulance arrives.

If you have more questions about asthma or getting an asthma action plan, speak to your GP.

Further Patient Resources

Asthma in children

what causes mouth ulcers? are mouth ulcers contagious?
What conditions can be treated by our online doctors?

Learn more about online medical certificates

Testicular Torsion- how to spot this serious condition

By | June 29th, 2021|Categories: Men's Health, Testicular pain|

What is Testicular Torsion? Testicular torsion refers to the twisting of a testicle and the spermatic cord attached to it, inside the scrotum. If prolonged and untreated, the twisting rapidly affects the [...]

Comments Off on Testicular Torsion- how to spot this serious condition


By | March 23rd, 2021|Categories: Psoriasis|

How to treat Psoriasis What is Psoriasis?  Psoriasis is a chronic (long term) skin condition that causes areas of the skin to become thickened, red, and scaly (described as [...]

Comments Off on Psoriasis
2018-11-23T15:15:22+00:00 By Dr Aifric Boylan|Asthma|

About the Author:

Aifric Boylan
Dr Aifric Boylan is an experienced GP based in Melbourne. She completed medical school at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and undertook specialist training as a General Practitioner. She has 10 years experience working in General Practice and currently works as a full time family doctor in Melbourne, with a special interest in women’s health and paediatrics. She is a medical writer, covering common health issues in General Practice, as well as publications and opinion pieces in the medical press.

4.8 out of 5
reviewed by Trustpilot