How to deal with an asthma attack

Asthma | 12/11/2023
 How to deal with an asthma attack
From wheezing to tightness in the chest, asthma attacks can cause a range of respiratory symptoms, and they can be potentially dangerous. Read on to learn more about how to deal with an asthma attack.

An asthma attack can be identified by a sudden worsening of symptoms. For example, someone having an asthma attack may notice their chest feeling very tight and may feel like they can’t breathe. Poor adherence with controller treatment (inhaled corticosteroids) leading to decreased asthma control increases the risk of having asthma attacks greatly. In addition to poor asthma control, there are often some additional triggers like viral respiratory infections, allergen exposure or other exposures like air pollution or tobacco smoke. 

Asthma attacks require immediate assistance, so it’s important to recognize the signs of an asthma attack and act quickly. Keep reading to learn more about asthma attack first aid, including how to spot an asthma attack and how to help yourself or somebody else. 

OBSERVE: What are the signs of an asthma attack and how will I know if I or somebody else is having an asthma attack? 

The first signs of an asthma attack differ but may be shortness of breath, chest tightness and wheezing. It may be difficult for the person having the attack to speak normally, and they may be sitting in a hunched position, or prefer to sit than lie down. They may also seem very agitated.  

If you notice yourself or somebody else seems more breathless than usual or is complaining of a sudden tight chest, consider that they may be having an asthma attack. 

ASSESS/TREAT: What should I do if me or someone else is having an asthma attack? 

The most important thing to do when you or someone else is having an asthma attack is to remain calm. Panicking can worsen symptoms. It’s important to ensure the person having the attack is in a comfortable position and has access to their inhaler. They should use their reliever inhaler as a first step to get the asthma attack under control. All patients should have a written personal asthma action plan where they can study their personal plan to deal with asthma attack. 

If the reliever inhaler (often taken repeatedly as instructed by the treating physician) is not helping to relieve symptoms, it’s important to seek medical assistance. An asthma attack occurs when the airways in the lungs become inflamed, swollen, and narrow, making it hard to breathe. It can also mean excess mucus production. This can be life threatening if not addressed, so it’s important to get the symptoms under control. 

PREVENT: What can I do to help prevent asthma attacks in the future? 

Whilst asthma attacks can be unsettling, the good news is that most types of asthma can be well controlled with medication. Using a preventer inhaler daily, and ensuring it is being used properly, will help to keep symptoms under control. It’s important to use inhalers correctly and as prescribed by the doctor for optimal asthma management. There are a number of other things a person can do to help prevent asthma attacks, including avoiding environmental smoke exposure, engaging in regular physical activity, and staying up to date with vaccinations according to local recommendations, particularly those for respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and influenza. 

Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) rate is a quick, simple test to measure air flowing out of the lungs. This measure can be particularly useful in helping monitor recovery after exacerbations and following a change in treatment. It can also be used to help earlier detection of exacerbations, and in patients with difficult to control or severe asthma. 

PEF measures can help inform an asthma action plan, to ensure the person is getting the correct treatment, particularly if they have an asthma attack.  

When asthma is well treated, a person is able to enjoy daily life free of worry and without restrictions. There are many options in terms of medications and treatment regimes. If you are concerned about your asthma or someone else’s, be sure to speak to your healthcare provider about your asthma action plan. They will also be able to tell you more about if measuring PEF can help to predict and reduce the risk of asthma attacks. 


Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA). Global strategy for asthma management and prevention 2023.  (Accessed October 2023) 

Orion Corporation is a globally operating Finnish pharmaceutical company. We develop, manufacture and market human and veterinary pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients. The dry powder inhaler developed at Orion is in the core of our respiratory therapy area.