When someone with asthma suffers a severe attack or respiratory distress, you might question whether it’s safe or even possible to perform CPR on them. Given the alarming statistics that over 24.9 million Americans, including 4.6 million children, live with this chronic respiratory condition, everyone must know how to help someone having a severe asthma attack.
Asthma can constrict the airways, making even the subconscious act of breathing hard to do. The condition can escalate quickly and may lead to life-threatening scenarios where the victim might need immediate CPR. But can you do CPR on someone with asthma?
In this article, we’ll cover the correct procedure and precautions for performing CPR on someone with asthma. So, let’s dive in and equip you with the knowledge of saving a life.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways (tubes that carry air in and out of our lungs). If you have asthma, your airways are often swollen and sensitive, and they may react strongly to certain substances you might breathe in. Some people even describe it as trying to breathe through a straw – it’s that hard.
When your airways react, the muscles around them tighten, narrowing the airways and causing symptoms like:
- Coughing. A dry cough or wet one that produces mucus. It often occurs at night, during exercise, or when laughing.
- Wheezing. A whistling sound can come out when you breathe, especially when exhaling.
- Shortness of Breath. Not getting enough air into your lungs.
- Chest Tightness. The victim feels like something is tightening their chest, and they’ll find it difficult to take deep breaths.
When something triggers your asthma, the lining of your airways will get inflamed and will start to swell. This inflammation leads to an overproduction of mucus, which can further narrow the airways and obstruct airflow, making it harder to breathe.
Unfortunately, the number of people who suffer from this condition becomes higher with each coming year. In 2001, the number of Americans with asthma was 7.4%, and that number jumped to 7.7% in 2021. According to recent statistics, there are currently 394,199 asthmatics in Alabama – 8.5% of them are children, which is a greater cause for alarm.
What Triggers Asthma Attacks
Understanding what might trigger an asthma attack is key to managing this condition. Triggers aren’t the same for everyone. They can vary and can be allergens or irritants.
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Cockroach droppings
- Certain foods
- Tobacco smoke
- Air pollution
- Strong odors
- Cold air
Other asthma attack triggers can include even stress or exercise. The signs of an attack aren’t subtle. The person might experience intensified wheezing, an unshakeable cough, rapid breathing, or feel their chest tightening. In this event, your immediate actions can make a huge difference. Try to stay calm, as panicking can tighten the chest muscles and make breathing even harder. Reach for your rescue inhaler and use it as directed.
In case the symptoms don’t improve after you’ve used the inhaler, or if you’re in doubt about your condition, don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical help.
You should think about educating yourself on the proper techniques and having an action plan in place to ensure that you’re ready to tackle an asthma attack head-on. It’s how you maintain your health and well-being.
Performing CPR on People With Asthma
When faced with a medical emergency where someone is experiencing an asthma attack, your ability to recognize the signs can be life-saving. Asthma attacks can be severe and sometimes may lead to respiratory failure, which could require CPR. However, you must distinguish between an asthma attack and cardiac arrest.
An asthma attack typically presents with wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing, but the person remains conscious, and their heart continues to beat. Cardiac arrest, on the other hand, is when a person is unresponsive and can’t breathe normally. But if you happen to encounter someone who’s not breathing or showing signs of life, it’s recommended to perform CPR immediately.
What To Do During an Asthma Attack
First off, check if the person is responsive. Shake them gently and shout, trying to get a reaction. If they’re unresponsive, call 911 immediately. If they’re conscious and able to answer questions, ask if they have their medication or inhaler nearby. If they can speak and point you to it, assist them in taking their medication.
The position of the person during an asthma attack is crucial, too. You might think to lay them down, but that’s not the right move. Keep them sitting upright, as this position helps to open their airways and can make breathing easier. Laying them down could exacerbate their breathing difficulties, so avoid that at all costs.
How To Give CPR To Someone With Asthma
During an asthma attack, a rescue inhaler is often the first line of defense. It works by delivering medication that relaxes the muscles around the airways, allowing the person to breathe more easily. Your role here is to aid in administering the inhaler if the person is struggling to do so themselves. Watch for improvement in breathing, and be ready to assist further if necessary.
But what if the inhaler doesn’t work or the person isn’t breathing at all? That’s when you give CPR. You should start with chest compressions, which must be at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Then, proceed by pressing down hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest, allowing for full recoil between compressions.
If you’re trained in CPR and feel comfortable doing so, provide rescue breaths by tilting the head back, lifting the chin, and giving breaths that make the chest rise.
Misconceptions About CPR and Asthma
You might think that CPR isn’t necessary for someone experiencing an asthma attack, but this is far from the truth. If an asthmatic person stops breathing and their lips start turning blue from lack of oxygen, CPR could save their life. Another common myth is that performing CPR on someone with asthma could worsen their condition. However, CPR is designed to support and maintain breathing and circulation regardless of underlying conditions.
You might also hesitate to administer CPR because you believe that an inhaler or nebulizer treatment should come first. Yet, if the person is unresponsive and not breathing or doesn’t have a pulse, asthma medication won’t solve the immediate crisis. Your priority is to start CPR immediately to maintain vital blood flow.
Common Concerns Regarding CPR on People With Asthma
If you’re faced with a scenario where someone with asthma is unresponsive and not breathing, you might be hesitant to perform CPR due to the fear of exacerbating their asthma attack.
It’s important to understand that when breathing stops, whether due to an asthma attack or another cause, the lack of oxygen is an immediate threat to life. The concern about making the asthma worse is secondary to the urgent need for resuscitation.
You may also worry about the possibility of causing physical harm, such as broken ribs, which can make the victim’s condition worse down the line. While it’s true that injuries can occur during CPR, the potential benefits of saving a life far outweigh the risk of injury.
You might feel uncertain due to the legal ramifications of providing CPR, as many U.S. states, including Alabama, have Good Samaritan laws to protect individuals who jump into action with good intentions. As long as you act within the scope of your knowledge and training and provide help in good faith, you will be protected.
Asthma and CPR: Final Thoughts
So, can you do CPR on someone with asthma if they’re unresponsive? The answer is yes. If they’re not breathing and unconscious, you can and should do CPR on that person. Remember to check for responsiveness and breathing, call 911, and then start chest compressions. If you get yourself CPR certified in Montgomery, you can even perform rescue breaths on the victim.
It’s important to be aware that asthma attacks can lead to cardiac arrest, making your intervention potentially life-saving. Therefore, your ability to perform CPR can be a critical factor in aiding someone during an asthma-related emergency.
While dealing with an asthma sufferer might be intimidating, your actions could provide them with a fighting chance. So, empower yourself with the knowledge and skills of CPR – your preparedness can make all the difference for someone struggling to breathe due to asthma.