Asthma is considered as one of the most common chronic conditions that affect children and adults alike in many countries, including Canada. Over the last 20 years, the World Health Organization has noted an increase, up to 8.4%, in the number of people suffering from asthma. Furthermore, recent data show that there are around 235 million sufferers worldwide. Because of its increased prevalence, asthma is now considered as a serious public health problem.
In Canada, around 8.5% of the population or 2 million people have been diagnosed as having this chronic respiratory condition. Approximately 500 adults and 20 children die every year due to asthma and its complications. However, more than 80% of asthma-related mortalities could have been prevented with appropriate asthma education. A large fraction of asthma deaths are caused by acute asthma attacks which are actually preventable and curable.
What Are Asthma Attacks?
Asthma attacks are acute conditions wherein the muscles of the lungs go into uncontrolled spasms, making breathing very difficult, especially exhalation. Usually, asthma attacks are triggered by allergic responses of the body (such as exposure to pollen, pet dander, cockroaches, dust mites) or by stress (such as being involved in an accident). It is also possible for an attack to occur without apparent reasons.
Although asthma attacks are preventable and drugs to relieve attacks are very effective, these acute conditions should never be underestimated. A serious asthma attack, when left untreated, can lead to serious consequences and even death. Depending on the severity of the attack, it can cause the lungs to cease functioning or the heart to stop beating. If a person goes on asthma attack, you should be ready to resuscitate.
What To Do?
- Assist the victim into sitting position, slightly leaning forward. If they are very weak, have them lean over a pillow or anything, but never allow them to slouch or curl.
- Keep the victim in sitting position and do not allow them to lie down.
- Provide reassurance to help ease anxiety. Instruct them to avoid talking.
- Unless there is clear danger in the environment or the place makes breathing worse, keep the victim in the same place. Further moving the victim and changes in environment can cause breathing more difficult.
- If the casualty has medications, particularly inhalers, assist him in using it. Diagnosed asthmatics usually carry a fast-acting or reliever inhaler, which are normally blue. Some inhalers require use of chamber or spacer for efficacy.
- If it is the victim’s first time to use the reliever inhaler, it may take 5 minutes for the drug to take full effect. Get the victim take a puff of the medication every 5-10 minutes.
- If the symptoms persist or worsen or the casualty becomes exhausted, call your local emergency services or 911.
- If the victim stops breathing, you may need to start resuscitation.
- If the attack subsides and the symptoms get better, the victim may not need emergency medical treatment but consulting the doctor is highly recommended.
Where Can you Learn More?
workplace approved first aid programs, including standard, emergency and childcare first aid teach candidates basic recognition and victim management skills for victims of breathing emergencies such as asthma. To register for a course near you visit our locations page. Courses are available throughout Canada including in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Winnipeg.