Asthma Emergencies

By Donna Duggan

Asthma Emergencies

The very sad news of the death of an 8-year-old boy who suffered cardiac arrest due to an asthma attack at an after-school care has sparked debate on how ill-equipped many care facilities are at managing asthma. Almost a third of asthma attacks in children happen at school and although anaphylaxis training for those working in schools is mandatory, asthma training is not.

In this case, however, the school was known as being “asthma-friendly”. The boy was known as having asthma, but his condition was not classified as a severe case. Treatment was administered but unfortunately it was not successful.

”Asthma attacks can happen anywhere, any time and happen quickly,” said Michele Goldman, the chief executive of the NSW Asthma Foundation. ”There is still complacency around the disease. People may not appreciate the seriousness of asthma and can allow symptoms to get bad before they take action.

“There are so many myths around asthma. People think they can get by from using a puffer when needed. If a child or adult is having an attack the four point asthma first aid plan should be followed”, she said.

I didn’t know my 8-year-old son was asthmatic until he ended up in hospital last year. What I thought was a bout of gastro flu ended up with him being on oxygen for nearly a week. I learnt first hand that asthma can affect anyone, at any time and can develop quickly from mild to severe.

With one in 10 adults and about one in nine or 10 children suffering from asthma, it’s important that everyone knows how to handle asthma emergencies, not just schools.

ASTHMA EMERGENCY [source: Asthma foundation]

Symptoms of a mild asthma attack:

  • cough, wheeze
  • some shortness of breath
  • still able to speak in full sentences between breaths

Symptoms of a moderate asthma attack:

  • continual cough, moderate to loud wheeze
  • obvious difficulty breathing
  • only able to speak in short phrases between breaths

Symptoms of a severe asthma attack:

  • severe difficulties breathing
  • speak no more than a few words at a time
  • wheeze is often quiet
  • sucking in of the throat and rib muscles
  • pale and sweaty
  • may have blue lips
  • very distressed and anxious

If you or someone else is having a severe attack, you should call an ambulance (dial 000) immediately.

As well as experiencing some of the above symptoms, young children may appear restless, unable to settle and may have problems eating or drinking. They may also have severe coughing or vomiting.

1. Sit person upright
Be calm and reassuring
Do not leave them alone

2.Give 4 puffs of blue reliever puffer medication
Use a spacer if there is one
Shake puffer
Put 1 puff into spacer
Take 4 breaths from spacer
Repeat until 4 puffs have been taken
Remember: Shake, 1 puff, 4 breaths

3. Wait 4 minutes
If there is no improvement, give 4 more puffs as above

4. If there is still no improvement call emergency assistance [dial 000]
Asay ‘ambulance’ and that someone is having an asthma attack
Keep giving 4 puffs every 4 minutes until emergency assistance arrives


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