How to Treat an Asthma Attack

December 3, 2009 by  
Filed under Education

Once your child is having a full-fledged asthma attack, her preventive medicines will no longer work. It is necessary to use what is termed “rescue medication.” These medicines work immediately to relax the muscles that are constricting the lungs to let your child breathe more easily.

The most common rescue medications are called bronchodilators, and they come in an inhaler. An inhaler is a small, hand-held device that your child simply puts between his lips, squeezes, and inhales the medicine that is pumped out. Because it is so easy to use, your child may want to use it often, even when it really isn’t necessary. Your doctor will let you know how often your child can use his bronchodilator.

Have your child follow these instructions for using the inhaler:

  1. Shake the inhaler before removing the cap that covers the mouthpiece. Your child should hold the inhaler so that the mouthpiece is on bottom, and the medicine bottle is on top.
  2. Your child should put her thumb below the mouthpiece and her index and middle fingers on top of the medicine bottle.
  3. Have your child take a deep breath, and then let it all out, as much as he can.
  4. Have your child hold the mouthpiece between his lips and push down on the medicine bottle with one pump.
  5. As the medicine sprays out (called a “puff”), tell your child to breathe in as much of the medicine as she can, slowly and deeply, so that it goes well into the lungs.
  6. Have him hold his breath for a few seconds and then breathe out slowly, to let the medicine get evenly distributed in each lung.
  7. Have your child wait at least a minute before using the inhaler again. She may want to rinse her mouth since the medication has a bitter taste.
  8. Make sure your child keeps his inhaler clean, rinsing the mouthpiece with water after each use.

Bronchodilators are very effective in stopping attacks and usually work within two to three minutes. However, they must be used with caution. If your child is taking other medication, inform your doctor so that he’ll know which medicines he can prescribe and which ones may be dangerous if mixed with your child’s current drugs. Your doctor will let you know how many puffs your child should take for each dose. Also, tell your child to let you know if any of these side effects happen after she uses her inhaler:

  • Shaking or trembling
  • Tenseness or restlessness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Queasiness or vomiting
  • Stomach pain

If any of these do happen, inform your doctor right away.

Sometimes, inhalers have spacers and holding chambers attached. Your child can use these to make his inhaler work better. A spacer connects to the inhaler and makes it easier for your child to get the medication into her lungs. Some spacers look like plastic masks that can fit right over your child’s nose and mouth. Once he sprays the medication into the spacer, he can simply breathe in and out, using the same technique as listed in numbers 5 and 6 above. A holding chamber lets your child get all of the medication from each dose, and allows your child to breathe twice, not just once, for each puff, since the extra medicine in held in the chamber.

What is a nebulizer?

A nebulizer is used to treat asthma attacks very much like an inhaler, but it is a machine and works differently than your child’s inhaler. A nebulizer sprays medicine in a mist into your child’s lungs. Most of the time, nebulizers are used when your child is too young to properly use an inhaler, or having a severe enough attack not to have the strength or energy to use the inhaler. Your child simply places the mouthpiece between his lips and breathes in the mist supplied by the machine. Sometimes, a nebulizer may come with a face mask that fits over your child’s nose and mouth, and this is best used on very young children. Encourage your child to breathe through her mouth to get the medicine deep into her lungs. The process takes about fifteen minutes. Make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s directions for using the machine and your doctor’s advice for using the medicine. Do not allow your child to drink the liquid medicine that goes into the nebulizer, as it is for inhaling only.

What if my child’s asthma attack is severe?
You can try to prevent asthma attacks with medications, and you can administer the rescue medications during an actual attack. But sometimes your child will have a severe attack that may need the attention of her doctor.

Here are some signs to recognize that indicate your child’s attack is severe:

  • Your child is not able to speak easily between breaths
  • Your child’s pulse has gotten very fast (over 100 beats per minute)
  • Your child is standing up, leaning forward, and his shoulders are arched
  • Your child’s nostrils are flared
  • Your child’s lips are beginning to look blue or gray
  • Your child’s chest is over-inflated, and the rib spaces are depressed
  • When you have your child use her peak flow meter, the reading is less than half of her peak flow rate.

If your child is indeed having a severe attack, try having him bronchodilator. If the attack is not relieved in five minutes, call your doctor or take your child to the hospital. Remember to stay calm and do not upset your child any further. Always try to keep your child as calm as possible.

Once at the hospital, the staff will likely give your child medication using a nebulizer. If this is not successful in stopping the attack, they may give him an I.V., or intravenous fluids given directly into the blood veins. They may also begin a treatment of steroids to lessen the swelling in her lungs. Your child may have to remain at the hospital for a few days. Be sure to increase the dosage of preventive medication so that your child’s lungs can heal quickly.

What about when my child is away from home, on vacation or at school?
Whenever your child is away from home, he should always have his inhaler. Usually, that is all he will need if he is just at school or going over to a friend’s house for a few hours. If he goes somewhere overnight, or on a trip, he needs to have most of his equipment with him. Below is a good checklist of things your child should take with him on trips:


  • Current preventive medication and “rescue medicines”
  • Extra medication in case of emergency
  • Pharmacy bottles for refills if necessary
  • A list of all current medicines


  • Inhaler with bronchodilator medicine
  • Nebulizer and medication
  • Peak flow meter with chart
  • Sleep items that have been treated for dust mites, such as a pillowcase or mattress pad

Your child should also have her doctor’s phone number, the names and phone numbers of any asthma specialists that she goes to for treatment, and her medical insurance card, if you are insured. Your child should have these items at all times.

Tags: phone numbers, bitter taste, emergency pharmacy, Current preventive medication, medicines equipment inhaler

Asthma Information Resources

December 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Education

There are many support groups available for persons who have asthma or care for those who have asthma. Below is a listing of groups and phone numbers you can call for more information.

The American Academy of Allergy, and Immunology
1-800-822-ASMA (2762)

The American Lung Association

A.A.F.A. – The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
1-800-727-8462 (1-800-7-ASTHMA)

Asthma Explorers

Lung Line
1-800-222-LUNG (5864)

One way for your child to have fun and also learn about asthma is at asthma camps. You can find out more about these camps by calling one of the numbers listed above.

Tags: asthma camps, Allergy Foundation of America, phone numbers, allergy, Asthma

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