Asthma – first aid

Key points about asthma first aid

  • An asthma attack is an emergency – act fast.
  • An asthma attack can take anything from a few minutes to a few days to develop. 
  • During an asthma attack, a person gets short of breath and has tightness in their chest.
  • They will also be coughing, wheezing or breathless.
  • Symptoms can quickly worsen so it's important to act quickly. 


Young boy in striped tee-shirt uses inhaler for asthma

Children 5 years and older, teenagers and adults

If someone is having an asthma attack, follow the 'ASTHMA' acronym

A = Assess

Assess how severe the asthma attack is:

  • Mild – the person is short of breath, wheezing and coughing and has chest tightness.
  • Moderate – the person may have loud wheeze, breathing difficulty and can only speak in short sentences.
  • Severe – the person is distressed, gasping for breath, having difficulty speaking two words and is blue around the mouth. 

If the person has severe asthma or is frightened, call an ambulance on 111.

S = Sit

Sit the person upright and stay with them. Reassure them calmly.

T = Treat 

With reliever inhalers: Symbicort, Vannair, DuoResp Spiromax, Ventolin, Respigen, SalAir or Bricanyl.

Image: Asthma Foundation NZ

Treatment depends on how severe the asthma attack is

(external link)(external link)(Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ)

H = Help

If the person is not improving, call an ambulance immediately on 111. Continue to use the reliever inhaler every few minutes until help arrives. 

M = Monitor

If the person is improving, keep monitoring them. If necessary, repeat doses of the reliever inhaler. 
If the person is not improving, continue to use the reliever inhaler every few minutes until help arrives. 

A = All OK!

When the person is free of wheeze, cough or breathlessness, they can return to quiet activity.

If symptoms recur, repeat treatment and rest. It is important to always see a doctor after an asthma attack.

The following links has more information about asthma first aid.  

Asthma action plans – adults
Asthma action plans – children 
Asthma emergency action plan for children 5 years of age and under(external link)(external link) Asthma NZ and the Lung Association, NZ

Need help now?

Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Teresa Demetriou, Asthma & Respiratory Foundation NZ

Last reviewed:

Page last updated: