Sports First Aid Level 3 (VTQ)

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Asthma is a common life-threatening condition and its severity is often not recognised. Asthma is a medical condition characterised by intermittent, reversible airway obstructions. 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 their asthma, an asthma trigger, the muscles around the walls of the airway tighten, so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways become inflamed and they start to swell. Sometimes sticky mucus or phlegm builds up and it can further narrow the airways. All these reactions because the airways to become narrower and irritated, making it difficult to breathe and also leading to symptoms of asthma. Asthma is a common condition and it has varying levels of severity from mild to fatal.

Around 2,000 people a year die as a result of asthma. There are 5.4 million people in the UK currently receiving treatment for asthma, 1.1 million children in the UK currently receiving treatment for asthma, and finally, there is a person with asthma in one out of five households in the UK.

The signs and symptoms of a moderate asthma attack include breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, distress, anxiety and exhaustion.

Where asthma is classified as severe, the patient will need professional help as they will need to be given a nebuliser and steroids. Life-threatening asthma has the following signs and symptoms: Altered levels of consciousness; cyanosis, which is blue covering your lips and extremities, indicating a lack of oxygen; hypertension, exhaustion; poor respiratory effort; peak flow of less than 33%; blood oxygen levels less than 92% and a silent chest. If you see any of these, call the EMS as soon as possible.

Sometimes no matter how careful they are about taking their medication and avoiding triggers, they might have an asthma attack. There are different medications for the treatment and management of asthma. Asthma sufferers usually carry two types of inhaler, a brown one, which is preventative and the blue one is for the treatment of an asthma attack.

The asthma inhaler itself is a plastic container and you have a cartridge on the inside, you can remove the cartridge, it's got all the details of the drug on there and it pops back in. So, what they will do with this is take the cover off and they can put this into their mouth and deliver the drugs. When they are delivering the drugs they just push the button on top and that will put the aerosol out straight into their lungs.

When someone has an asthma attack, it can be very frightening for the patient and they may have their own way of dealing with the attack. Sometimes all you can do is really get their inhaler for them and reassure them.

If you interfere too much, they may seem angry but they are fighting to breathe and the last thing they want is a first-aider telling them what to do when they already know. If it is the first time someone has an asthma attack, you need to treat that as an emergency and get them to a doctor or a hospital as soon as possible, as you will not have the medications, therefore, you cannot treat it. Here are some guidelines that are suitable for both adults and children.

As a first-aider, we encourage the patient to use the inhaler. We do not actually do it for them. Try and find the history of the patient in relations to the previous six to 48 hours prior to the attack. This information may be of help to the paramedics if the attack gets worse.

Find their reliever inhaler, usually blue, as soon as possible once you have recognised they're having an asthma attack. Sit them down and ensure that any tight clothing is loosened. Do not lie them down. In mild cases, they may prefer to stand to initially take their medication.

If no immediate improvement during the attack, they should continue to take one puff of their reliever inhaler every minute for five minutes until symptoms improve. If their symptoms do not improve in five minutes or if you are in doubt, call 999 or a doctor urgently. They should continue to take one puff of their reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives.

Do not be afraid of causing a fuss, even at night, if they are admitted to a hospital or an accident and emergency department because of their asthma. Make sure you take details of their medications with them, as doctors will need to know what has been prescribed and what has been taken.

In most cases the inhaler will deal with the attack and they will soon start to feel better, but if you do not see signs of improvement or if they get worse, activate the emergency medical services as soon as possible, even if the patient says they don't want to go to hospital 'because they don't want to make a fuss. It's better to be seen by a doctor to ensure they're okay and don't need any further care. If you're looking after someone's child and the child had an asthma attack while in your care, make sure you tell the parents and record any cases of asthma that you treat in an accident book if you're in a work setting.