Asthma for the First Aider

What is Asthma?

A breathing condition in which the airways constrict (narrow) making it harder to breathe. It is most common in children and young adults although it could affect anyone. Asthma attacks can come on quickly and at their most serious could leave you needing to do CPR, so let’s check the signs & symptoms to help you prevent this happening!

Signs & Symptoms of Asthma

  • Wheezing, especially when breathing out
  • Upset, anxious, restless
  • Gasping for air or unable to ‘catch their breath’
  • Chest tightness
  • Tingling in fingers or toes

First Aid Treatment for Asthma


Asthma inhaler.

Seat the person in a comfortable position, preferably in a quiet, well ventilated area. Keep them warm enough – not too well ventilated! Comfort & reassure them as needed. Help them to take any medication prescribed for their asthma. Make sure it’s the reliever, not the preventer!

A cool-mist vaporizer may help. You may also try ‘breath coaching’ – the process of getting them to breathe in & out at the same time as you do, to control their breathing.

No, paper bags do not help asthma.

When to get Help

  • If they’ve never had asthma before
  • If the rest and/or medication don’t help.
  • If they cannot complete a normal sentence without gasping for air.
  • If they are using accessory muscles to breathe (shoulders, arms, etc.)

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
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