How much do you know about asthma? Enough to recognise the symptoms when confronted by someone experiencing wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness?

Asthma is a long-term medical condition that impacts your airways, which extend between your nose and mouth, and your lungs. People with asthma have sensitive airways that react to triggers like animal dander, pollen, mould, cold air, smoke, exercise, and respiratory infections. When sensitive airways react to triggers, the muscles around the airway squeeze tight, the airways swell and become narrow, and there is more mucus. The airways have the critical role of carrying air in and out of your body, and the reactions to triggers make breathing difficult.

Asthma can develop at any age; however, a diagnosis of asthma is more likely if you have eczema or hay fever, or have close relatives with allergies and/or asthma. Signs and symptoms of asthma can vary from person to person; however, the most common and obvious are shortness of breath, wheezing, tight chest, and persistent cough.

For a person with asthma, breathing difficulties can develop slowly over hours or even days, or contact with a trigger can cause a rapid reaction, called an asthma attack, that can quickly become a medical emergency.

Signs and Symptoms

In mild asthma, there may be a cough, and the difficulty in breathing can be relatively minor and does not usually interfere with a person’s ability to speak in full sentences.

However, at the next level, moderate asthma, there may be a persistent cough, difficulty in breathing will be obvious, and the person may be able to speak in short sentences only.

Severe asthma is life-threatening. The person may be gasping for breath, can be pale and sweaty and may have blue lips, and may be able to speak only a few words in one breath.

First Aid for Asthma

For mild and moderate asthma, position the person upright, reassure them and stay with them. Give four puffs of a blue/grey reliever, using a spacer if possible in this sequence: shake the reliever, squeeze one puff into the spacer, have the person take four breaths. Repeat this sequence four times, wait four minutes, then assess the person. If the asthma persists, repeat the treatment.

If there is no relief or if the asthma worsens, and for severe asthma, call triple zero (000) and say, ‘asthma emergency’. Continue with the treatment until help arrives.


Allens Training provides free charts containing information on how to respond in a number of different emergencies, including a chart relating to asthma. The asthma chart contains a guide to assessing and treating an asthma attack, so that even if you have not learned the technique in a formal training session, you can still administer first aid when you recognise asthma.

If you would like FREE copies of any of our charts, please contact our Sunshine Coast Training Centre and we can have some posted out to you. Alternatively, you can download these from our website.

The Allens Training first aid app provides handy access to information on how to assess and treat someone experiencing an asthma attack. The app can be downloaded from the Allens Training website.

For more about asthma research, education and training, and to obtain help and support, visit Asthma Australia. The organisation is currently calling for registrations for their annual national PJ Day – wear your pyjamas all day to raise awareness and help support asthma research.

For hands-on knowledge of what to do when confronted with an asthma emergency, enrol in one of the Allens Training Sunshine Coast courses in CPR and first aid. Visit the Allens Training Sunshine Coast website to view the calendar of scheduled courses, then book online, or contact 07 5438 8888 (email


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