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Asthma is a common condition that can be life-threatening. It 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, which is called 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, starting to swell.

Sometimes a 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 the symptoms of asthma.

Asthma is a common condition and it has varying levels of severity, from mild to fatal. 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 may need to be given a nebuliser, steroids or perhaps both.

Sometimes, no matter how careful someone is about taking their medicines and avoiding triggers, they may have an asthma attack. Asthma sufferers usually carry two types of inhaler:

Brown – which is preventative and Blue – for the treatment of an attack

When someone has an asthma attack it can be very frightening, but usually, they will have their own way of dealing with it. Sometimes all you can really do is to get their inhaler for them, stay with them and reassure them. If you interfere too much they may become angry, but remember that at this point they are fighting to breathe and the last thing they need is a well-meaning first aider telling them what to do when they already know!

After you recognise someone is having an asthma attack find their reliever inhaler, which is usually blue. Sit them down and ensure that any tight clothing is loosened. Do not lie them down. In mild cases, they may prefer to stand to initially take their medication.

If no immediate improvement is seen after taking their inhaler, they should take one puff of their reliever inhaler every minute, for five minutes, until symptoms improve.

If their symptoms do not improve in five minutes – or you are in doubt – call 999 or a doctor urgently.

They should continue to take one puff of their reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives.

In most cases, the inhaler will deal with the attack and the person 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, who can ensure they are ok and do not need further treatment.

And finally, if it is the first time someone is having what you think is an asthma attack and you are in any way unsure of what to do, get them to a Doctor or hospital as soon as possible, as you will not have medications and therefore cannot treat it directly.