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Acute Asthma Attack Treatment for Adults

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Call 911

  • Symptoms of acute attack include difficulty talking or walking because of shortness of breath or lips or fingernails turning blue.

1. Follow the Person’s Asthma Plan, if Possible

  • Find out if the person has an individualized asthma action plan from a health care provider.
  • If so, follow its directions for giving asthma medication and seeking medical help for acute asthma attack.

2. Give Asthma First Aid

If the person doesn't have an asthma plan:

  • Sit the person upright comfortably and loosen tight clothing.
  • If the person has asthma medication, such as an inhaler, assist in using it.
  • If the person doesn’t have an inhaler, use one from a first aid kit or borrow someone else’s.

3. Use Inhaler With a Spacer, if Possible

  • Remove cap and shake inhaler well.
  • Insert inhaler into spacer.
  • Have the person breathe out completely and put mouth tightly around spacer mouthpiece.
  • Press inhaler once to deliver a puff.
  • Have the person breathe in slowly through the mouth and then hold breath for 10 seconds.
  • Give a total of four puffs, waiting about a minute between each puff.

4. Use Inhaler Without a Spacer, if Necessary

  • Remove the inhaler cap and shake well.
  • Have the person breathe out all the way and seal lips tightly around inhaler mouthpiece.
  • As the person starts to breathe in slowly, press down on inhaler one time.
  • The person should keep breathing in as slowly and deeply as possible (about five to seven seconds) and then hold breath for 10 seconds.
  • Give a total of four puffs, waiting about one minute between each puff.

5. Continue Using Inhaler if Breathing Is Still a Problem

  • After four puffs, wait four minutes. If the person still has trouble breathing, give another set of four puffs.
  • If there’s still little or no improvement, give four puffs every four minutes until ambulance arrives. If the person is having a severe attack, give up to six to eight puffs every five minutes.

6. Monitor the Person Until Help Arrives

  • Do not mistake drowsiness as a sign of improvement; it could mean asthma is worsening.
  • Do not assume the person’s asthma is improving if you no longer hear wheezing.

7. Follow Up

  • An emergency room doctor will check the severity of the attack and provide treatment, including medications.
  • The person may be discharged home or hospitalized for further care, depending on response to treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on January 05, 2014

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