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Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates his airways (an asthma trigger), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell. Sometimes sticky mucus or phlegm builds up that can further narrow the airways. All these reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated - making it difficult to breathe and leading to symptoms of asthma.

  • 5.4m people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • 1.1m children in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • There is a person with asthma in one in five households in the UK.

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are about taking your asthma medicines and avoiding your triggers, you may find that you have an asthma attack.

Asthma sufferers usually carry two types of inhalers:
Brown – which is the preventative
Blue – for the treatment of an attack
Drugs in these do vary so only use that person's inhaler

The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults and are the recommended steps to follow in an asthma attack:

  1. Take your reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately
  2. Sit down and ensure that any tight clothing is loosened. Do not lie down.
  3. If no immediate improvement during an attack, continue to take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute for five minutes or until symptoms improve
  4. If your symptoms do not improve in five minutes – or you are in doubt – call 999 or a doctor urgently
  5. Continue to take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives

You are having an asthma attack if any of the following happen:

  • Your reliever does not help symptoms
  • Symptoms are getting worse (a cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
  • You are too breathless to speak, eat or sleep

Do not be afraid of causing a fuss, even at night. If you are admitted to hospital or an accident and emergency department because of your asthma, take details of your medicines with you.