Taking the angst out of asthma

Asthma is a chronic medical condition that results in shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing when a person has an attack. When it is not attended to at onset, it could become life threatening.

Between attacks, the person normally has no problem breathing. More children than adults suffer from asthma and in most cases the symptoms decrease or go away as the child reaches adulthood.

The following are general triggers of an asthma attack: increased activity while having a cold, walking longer than usual distances, taking part in a sports event, pet hair, certain foods, insect bites or stings, pollen, dust, paint or smoke.

The severity of an attack is measured by the reduction of air flow to the lungs. For example, a mild attack can simply be annoying, whereas a severe attack could be fatal. Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack include a shortness of breath or obvious trouble breathing, wheezing, fast and shallow breathing and bluish colour of the face and lips.

Following the steps below can save a life:

1. Ensure that the person is safe and out of any danger.

2. As soon as you have identified the severity of the attack, call for medical help. This could be a nurse/paramedic on duty or an ambulance. Emergency numbers in SA include 10177 from a land line and 112 from a cell phone.

3. Ask the person to stop any activity and place him/her in a comfortable position that allows him/her to breathe easily e.g. sitting upright while resting arms on a table.

4. If the person is a known asthmatic and has medication with him/her, ask if assistance is required to take the medication. Where the person is not a known asthmatic, ask the following leading questions to get as much information as possible:
• Are you finding it difficult to breathe?
• Are you allergic to anything?
• Are you currently using any medication?
• Have you had a similar attack before?
• When last have you eaten?
• What caused the attack?

5. Remain calm and reassure the person. Encourage him/her to breathe slowly. Stay calm and tell him/her that medical help is on its way.

6. If the severity increase and medical help is going to take a long time and it is possible, take the person to a medical centre to receive medical attention.

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