Take a Breath! How to Help During an Asthma Attack


Take a Breath! How to Help During an Asthma Attack

  • Apr 22, 2017

You're jogging through Central Park when you come across a teenager hunched over with obvious difficulty breathing.

You stop and approach the teen:

What's wrong? you ask.

I can't... catch... my breath..., the boy whispers.

Between his gasps for air, you hear the patient mutter:

Asthm... asthma.

This teen is having a serious asthma attack. How can you help?

Asthma is a chronic medical condition in which certain substances and conditions (called triggers) cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways resulting in difficulty breathing. According to the American Red Cross, "common triggers include exercise, temperature extremes, allergies, air pollution, strong odors (such as perfume, cologne and scented cleaning products), respiratory infections, and stress or anxiety."

What are the signs of an asthma attack?

Difficulty breathing

Wheezing or coughing

Being unable to speak in full sentences without pausing to take a breath

Chest tightness


A person with asthma usually knows when he is having an attack and carries special medication to treat these life-threatening events called a rescue inhaler.

How can I help someone having an Asthma Attack?

Call 9-1-1

Help the patient use his rescue inhaler:

Have the patient sit up and lean slightly forward.

Verify that the inhaler belongs to the patient and is designed for emergency situations.

Shake the inhaler and remove the mouthpiece.

Ask the patient to exhale completely, then place the inhaler in his mouth.

Tell the patient to breath in deeply while spraying the medication simultaneously.

Instruct the patient to hold the medication in his lungs for 10 seconds.

If at any point, the patient becomes unresponsive, move them to the ground and check to see if they need CPR (the 9-1-1 operator can help you with this).

Learn more about asthma, register for a First Aid CPR AED class.