Helping a Loved One with Asthma: An Interview with Dr. Corinna Bowser
Last updated: June 2021
In our last interview with Corinna S. Bowser, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI, she answered community questions about allergies vs sensitivities. She came back to share some information about another hot topic: How to help someone with asthma. If you have a loved one with asthma, this will be a great resource for you! If you are someone with asthma, we recommend sharing this article with your loved ones so they can be prepared in case you have an asthma emergency.
Dr. Bowser is an allergist and founder at Suburban Allergy Consultants in Pennsylvania. Her board certification is in adult and pediatric allergy and immunology and pediatrics. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
How to help someone with asthma
What steps should someone take if their loved one is having an asthma attack?
The first step is to calm the person down. If they get anxious, hyperventilate, it makes the situation only worse. If albuterol (bronchodilator/rescue inhaler) is available, bring it to the patient and have them take two inhalations and wait for it to work for 15-20 minutes. If there is not much improvement, give another two puffs and seek medical attention.
Not every asthma sufferer always has their inhaler available, unfortunately. We had a situation once during our dragon boat practice when one team member suffered an asthma attack while we were on the Schuylkill River - the inhaler was in her car on land! The best thing to do in this (not ideal) situation, is to have the person use his/her accessory muscles to help breathing by propping up the arms on the thighs in sitting position. Staying calm is very important.
But we highly recommend that for every person with asthma, a rescue inhaler/bronchodilator is available when exercising - and ideally at all times (an asthma attack can happen unexpectedly).
Are there any common items in the home that can help someone during an asthma attack?
Asthma attacks can be triggered by hot or cold air, by smoke, certain smells or exposures, and more. The best is to remove the person from the trigger - that means going outside to catch your breath, coming into the warmth (if cold was the trigger), drinking some water if the throat irritation triggered the attack. Sometimes drinking something warm can help a little. Of course the albuterol/bronchodilator is the most effective way to treat an asthma attack, but Primatene Mist (OTC) can also help. Caffeine has a similar effect, but then strength and onset of action is probably not fast enough during an acute asthma episode.
How can someone prep their home for a visitor with asthma?
That depends very much on what triggers asthma for the individual. In general, it's best to avoid smoke, strong perfumes, or scented candles. If somebody visiting has a dog or cat allergy, it's best to host them in a room where the dog and cat don't go - maybe even run a HEPA air filter for a couple of hours before the arrival of the guest. Being outside may be best in that situation if the weather allows it. I think it's best to check with the guest ahead of time what could help them to be comfortable if their asthma easily gets out of control.
Overall, how can someone best support their loved one with asthma?
It is very important to take asthma seriously. For most asthma sufferers there are treatments available to completely control their asthma. Nobody should be allowed to make fun of somebody taking medication or voicing concerns over situations that cause symptoms for them. It's important to remind loved ones of regular doctor visits, getting refills for their medications in time, and taking their medications according to directions from the physician.
Share your tips for helping someone with asthma in the comments below!
How often do you experience a shortage in your asthma medication?