Summary

  • An asthma attack can become an emergency needing first aid and urgent medical attention.
  • If you take quick action, you can reduce the risk of an asthma emergency.
  • If you or a family member has asthma, be sure to prepare an asthma action plan with the help of your doctor.
  • During an asthma attack or emergency, follow the asthma action plan.
  • In an asthma emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

An asthma attack can quickly become an asthma emergency, but if you take quick action, you can reduce the risk of an asthma emergency.

If you or a family member have asthma, be sure to prepare an asthma action plan with the help of your doctor and learn the four steps of asthma first aid. Follow the action plan if the symptoms of an asthma attack appear.

First aid for an asthma emergency

If you have asthma, your doctor will:

The signs of an asthma emergency include when the person:

  • finds it very difficult to breathe (gasping for air)
  • is unable to speak comfortably or if their lips are turning blue
  • has symptoms that get worse very quickly
  • is getting little or no relief from their reliever inhaler.

In asthma emergencies, follow your asthma action plan.

Know the four steps of asthma first aid

It’s important for everyone in the community to know the four steps of asthma first aid.

To use asthma first aid:

  1. Sit the person upright.
  2. Give four puffs of blue or grey reliever puffer. Make sure you shake the puffer, put one puff into a spacer and get the person to take four breaths from the spacer. Repeat this until the person has taken four puffs.
    Remember: shake, one puff, four breaths.
    If you don’t have a spacer simply give the person four puffs of their reliever directly by mouth.
  3. Wait four minutes. If there is no improvement, give four more separate puffs as in step 2. Remember: shake, one puff, four breaths.
  4. If there is still no improvement, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Tell the operator that someone is having an asthma emergency. Keep giving the person four separate puffs of reliever medication, taking four breaths for each puff, every four minutes until the ambulance arrives.

If you are not sure if someone is having an asthma attack, you can still use asthma reliever medication because it is unlikely to cause harm.

 

Call triple zero (000) immediately if the person is not breathing, if their asthma suddenly becomes worse, or if the person is having an asthma attack and there’s no blue or grey reliever available. 

Asthma symptoms in a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

People having a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can also have asthma-like symptoms. If the person has an anaphylaxis action plan, follow the instructions. If they have known severe allergies and carry an adrenaline autoinjector, use that before using asthma reliever medication.

In case of an emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Where to get help

References

More information

Asthma

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Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Asthma Foundation of Victoria

Last updated: August 2017

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.