Asthma is an extremely common chronic and potentially life threatening condition that affects nearly 10% of children and a large number of adults too. There are over 25,000 emergency hospital admissions for asthma amongst children in the UK every year and many more when you include adult asthmatics too. Many asthmatics find that there is a particular time of year when their asthma becomes more difficult to control; for some cold weather is a challenge, however for many Spring is particularly difficult.

When someone has Asthma; their airways go into spasm which causes tightness of the chest; the linings of the airways become inflamed and produce phlegm leading to extreme difficulty in breathing.

Learn the triggers:

Asthma, Alcohol and pollen can be a lethal combination and the following paragraph explains why.

There are many different triggers for Asthma attacks and many asthmatics are well aware of their trigger points, although they may not always be able to avoid them.

Asthma triggers

Pollen and pollution are increasingly responsible for asthma triggers and many people find a worsening of their symptoms in Spring combined with the onset of hay fever. There are many species of grasses, trees and weeds in the UK and some people are particularly sensitive to some and do not react at all to others. There is also huge variation around the country as to when pollen is released and people can begin to suffer from hay fever as early as January. About 20% of people with hay fever are allergic to birch tree pollen and this as well as Oak and Plane trees, are responsible for many unpleasant symptoms and can exacerbate asthma.

Grass pollens are the most common cause of hay fever and usually affect people in May, June and July.

Weed pollens (such as nettles and docks) usually release pollen from early spring to early autumn.

If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, speak to your GP or asthma nurse.

The Met Office issues really useful pollen advice, please see below. They also have great resources and heat maps indicating particularly high pollen counts to enable you to prepare.

Alcohol contains histamine; which is also released as part of the body’s reaction to allergies – it is therefore strongly suggested that alcohol can increase the sensitivity of the body to pollen and other allergens. It is advisable to avoid alcohol if you have a prone to allergic reactions or suffer from allergy induced asthma as it can make you more likely to suffer an asthma attack.

Keeping your hay fever under control will help with controlling your asthma too.

Take medicines for hay fever and do your best to control the symptoms. Research has shown that if you are able to control your hay fever symptoms, you are less likely to be admitted to A&E with a severe asthma attack. Hay fever can often be controlled using over the counter medication such as nasal steroids, anti-histamines or anti-inflammatory eye-drops; ask your pharmacist or GP which one is right for you and if it isn’t working go back and try an alternative.

Asthma UK have great resources on their website

Symptoms of asthma:

shortness of breath
tightness in the chest
Often people find it particularly difficult to breathe out and have an increase in sticky mucus and phlegm
Not everyone will get all of these symptoms.

NOTE: Encouraging someone to sit upright is generally helpful when dealing with breathing problems. Sitting the wrong way round on a chair may be a good position for them.

DO NOT take them outside for fresh air if it is cold – as cold air makes symptoms worse.

How to help in an asthma attack

The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults:

How to help with an asthma attack

Be calm and reassuring as reducing the stress and keeping the casualty calm really helps them to control their symptoms and panic can increase the severity of an attack. Take one to two puffs of the reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately – using a spacer device if available.

  • Stay as calm as you can and encourage them to stay calm too
  • Sit them down, loosen any tight clothing and encourage them to take slow, steady breaths.
  • If they do not start to feel better, they should take more puffs of their reliever inhaler
  • If they do not start to feel better after taking their inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999/112.
  • They should keep taking the reliever inhaler whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive
  • If you suspect the asthma attack maybe due to an allergic reaction and the reliever inhaler is not working. If the person has been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector in case of an acute allergic reaction – it would be advisable to give this injection into the upper, outer part of their thigh according to the instructions. If worried in any way, check with the emergency services and keep them informed and updated as to the casualty’s condition.

After an asthma attack:

They should make an appointment with your doctor or asthma nurse for an asthma review, ideally within 48 hours of their attack.
It is strongly advised that you attend a First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. First Aid for Life run specific courses covering in detail how to help someone having an asthma attack.

Please visit, or contact or tel 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.

First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.

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