Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects the airway passages in the lungs. It is characterized by shortness of breath and wheezing. Every year in Canada about 500 people die from asthma attacks. However, most of these deaths could have been prevented through proper training, education, and management.

What causes asthma?

Asthma attacks are often brought on by triggers like; dust, pollen, cigarette smoke, perfumes. These triggers may induce an asthma attack. Asthma results in the lining in the small airways to become inflamed (irritated or swollen) and secrete mucous. Muscles around the airway passages constrict and reduce the airflow even more. When the person breathes, air passes through tiny air passages and a high-pitched sound is made. This is called a wheeze.

Causes or triggers of asthma;

  • Food or animal allergies
  • Smoke from cigarettes or fires
  • Pollen, dust, moulds
  • Exercise
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Chemical Fumes
  • Perfumes
  • Cold air
  • Aspirin may trigger an asthmatic attack in people with a history of asthma

What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?

A person having an asthmatic attack may show one or more of the following signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Use of accessory breathing muscles (abdominal)
  • Lips or nails may turn bluish in colour
  • Difficulty speaking - may even be unable to complete a full sentence
  • Productive cough

What to do when someone is having an asthma attack?

  • Dial 9-1-1 immediately and ask for paramedics
  • If the person is prescribed an inhaler for asthma, assist the person with their medication
  • Loosen any tight fitting clothing around their neck
  • If the person goes unconscious, lay them on their side and monitor their airway, breathing, and circulation
  • Have someone meet the paramedics outside
  • Learn CPR and start artificial respirations when a person stops breathing

What will the paramedics do when they arrive?

  • Administer oxygen through a mask
  • Take your vital signs - your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate
  • Administer medication through a small box or mask
  • If required place a tube in the trachea (windpipe) to help the person breathe
  • They may start an intravenous in case further medication is required

How to prevent an asthma attack?

  • Avoid triggers which may precipitate an asthma attack
  • Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor
  • Wear a medic alert bracelet identifying what medical condition you have
  • If you are a smoker, quit! Smoking is the leading cause of lung disease and will contribute to the development of asthma and/or other lung related illnesses

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