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Recognising and managing an acute asthma attack

02 February 2021
16 min read
Volume 2 · Issue 1


Asthma is a potentially life-threatening condition, characterised by a reversible narrowing of the airways. It affects 1 in 10 children in the UK. During exacerbations, it is difficult for the child to breathe and get enough oxygen into their blood. There is a huge variance in the severity of an attack. Some can be managed in the community while others are potentially fatal and need urgent transfer to hospital. For that reason, criteria have been created to categorise attacks as mild, moderate, severe or life threatening. Initially, an asthma attack should be treated using inhaled salbutamol; however, if the patient does not respond or has severe or life-threatening asthma, they need urgent transfer to hospital.

Asthma attacks are potentially life threatening and characterised by a reversible narrowing of the airways, they affects 1.1 million children in the UK (Asthma UK, 2021a). Approximately 25 000 children are admitted to hospital as an emergency per year because of asthma attacks (NHS London, 2020). In 2018, 20 children under the age of 14 died from asthma, while 22 between the ages of 15–24 years old died (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2020). Therefore, it is important to be able to recognise asthma attacks and initiate appropriate management.

‘Formal diagnosis of asthma is difficult and must reflect the chronic nature of the disease…There is no one test that confirms a diagnosis of asthma. GPs use a combination of clinical history and lung function testing…any child who presents as acutely unwell with wheeze should be treated as though they have asthma’

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