5 steps to survive an asthma attack without an inhaler

Most experience an asthma attack without realising they're suffering from it and are not prepared for what follows

Munnazzah Raza May 22, 2015
Steps to take during an asthma attack when you don't have an inhaler handy. PHOTO: ATRIUM LEGAL

KARACHI: Chest tightening, wheezing, gasping for air; if you've ever experienced an asthma attack you'll know what the feeling is like. While most people know the drill, some experience these symptoms without even realising that they're suffering from this condition and are usually not prepared for what follows.

Let's go back to the basics, what is asthma? Simply put, asthma is a lung condition in which the airways inside the lung become narrow, swell and produce extra mucus. This leads to difficulty in breathing which causes the individual to wheeze and cough due to shortness of breath.


While it may seem harmless, it can be life threatening and although it cannot be cured, it can be controlled. But to control it, one must always know the triggers.


- Second-hand cigarette smoke

- Air pollutants (smog)

- Airborne allergens, such as dust, molds, pollen, pet dander and dust mites (allergic asthma)

- Strenuous physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)

- Foods (nuts, shellfish) or food additives and preservatives (MSG)

- Certain medications, including beta-blockers, aspirin and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

- Emotional stress

- Household chemicals or odors (cooking)

- Weather – cold temperatures, wet weather


You may notice that in some cases there are more than one triggers which lead to an asthma attack, due to which extra care should be taken to avoid them.

More often than not, an asthmatic will always keep an inhaler handy, but what happens when someone suffers from an attack and does not have an inhaler in time of need? Here are five steps to help ease the attack:

1. Move away from the trigger


We have established that an attack usually occurs due to a trigger, so for example if you're in the midst of dust or second-hand smoke, move away or breathe through a cloth or your sleeve. If you're exercising, stop. Do not bend over or lay down, it can constrict your breathing even more.

2. Breathing technique


During an attack people tend to gasp for air, but in 1952 a Russian doctor Konstantin Buteyko developed a shallow-breathing technique which contradicts the body's tendency to breathe hard. The NY Times states, "The Buteyko method instructs people to breathe shallowly and slowly through the nose, breaking the vicious cycle of rapid, gasping breaths, airway constriction and increased wheezing."

The doctor explains that hyperventilating (the act of breathing too hard and deeply) causes the asthma to worsen by lowering the level of carbon dioxide in the blood so much that the airways constrict to conserve it.

3. Stay calm


In such situations it is best not to panic and maintain calm, otherwise it will add to the attack and make it worse. Staying calm also prevents tightening of the chest muscles and makes breathing easier.

4. Drink coffee or non-herbal tea


Hot caffeinated drinks like coffee, relax the airways and decrease the lungs’ response to irritants providing some temporary relief. While caffeinated drinks such as sodas and energy drinks may help, tea and coffee have other compounds that act similarly to caffeine and because they are hot liquids they help loosen mucus. If none of these are available, take a hot bath the steam also helps in loosening the mucus.

5. Seek medical help


If the attack does not subside after some time, go see a doctor or call someone to take you to a nearby hospital.

However, if you suffer from asthma you should carry an inhaler, these steps are to help you through an attack in cases when an inhaler is not available, but make sure you have your doctor or family member on speed dial in case you suffer from an attack when alone.


Peter Robertson | 8 years ago | Reply I developed Asthma when I was 18 and for 37 years used ventolin at first progressing to flovent then Advair. My job as a teacher required me to talk a lot and I was tired when I woke up in the morning. I tried the 5 lesson Buteyko method in Toronto with Steve Donald. I split my medication to ventolin and flovent and weened off the flovent and used the ventolin when required. After 2 weeks of the breathing exercises for an hour a day I was not needing any medication and was feeling better and sleeping better. After 4 month I had the opportunity to learn how to teach the Buteyko Method. It works for most people but requires focus and work when practising your breathing. In many ways it's similar to Mindfulness breathing except for the emphasis on mastering the ability to minimizing the amount of air one taking in to match the activity at hand. I don't get many student because I don't have a lot of time but there other teachers of buteyko in the canada and the US that I would encourage you to go to. I'm a sceptic but thought that if it could lessen the amount of medication I was taking then it would be worth it. Instead I found a way to almost completely minimized medications,( still keep ventolin for an emergency) and a way to help me be more mindful of my health.
Muhammed Ahmed | 8 years ago | Reply My observations; When caffeine is synthesized in the body it releases a ventolin like compound which eases the constrictions of the airways for roughly two to four hours depending on your condition. The slow, short breaths also works but nowhere as effective as taking a strong cup of coffee. Exercise helps, especially those focusing on cardiovascular health such as swimming, jogging, running or simply even walking, for at least four to five miles. Protein and fruit consumption helps. Exclude beef and chicken from your diet for some time. Stay away or lessen fried food consumption. They constrict the airways. Always have your steroid and non - steroid inhaler nearby and before exercising take a puff or two (non-steroid - ventolin). It will help with the breathing. Take your myteka tablets daily during the pollen season. Keep your windows closed before sleeping. Watermelon consumption relaxes the airways. Spend some time on observing your asthma triggers so as to avoid them and improve the quality of your life.
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