Take Action Against Asthma
Taking an active role to control your asthma involves working with your healthcare team to create and follow an asthma action plan. It also means avoiding factors that can make your asthma flare up and treating other conditions that can interfere with asthma management.
An asthma action plan gives guidance on taking your medicines properly, avoiding factors that worsen your asthma, tracking your level of asthma control, responding to worsening asthma, and seeking emergency care when needed.
Asthma is treated with two types of medicines: long-term control and quick-relief medicines. Long-term control medicines help reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms. Quick-relief, or “rescue,” medicines relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up.
Your initial asthma treatment will depend on how severe your disease is. Follow-up asthma treatment will depend on how well your asthma action plan is working to control your symptoms and prevent you from having asthma attacks.
Your level of asthma control can vary over time and with changes in your home, school, or work environments that alter how often you are exposed to the factors that can make your asthma worse. Your doctor may need to increase your medicine if your asthma doesn’t stay under control.
If your asthma is well controlled for several months, your doctor may be able to decrease your medicine.
On the other hand, if your asthma is well controlled for several months, your doctor may be able to decrease your medicine. These adjustments, either up or down, to your medicine will help you maintain the best control possible with the least amount of medicine necessary.
Asthma Action Plan
You can work with your doctor to create a personal written asthma action plan. The asthma action plan shows your daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take and when to take them. The plan explains when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.
If your child has asthma, all of the people who care for him or her should know about the child’s asthma action plan. This includes babysitters and workers at daycare centers, schools, and camps. These caretakers can help your child follow his or her action plan.
A number of common things (sometimes called asthma triggers) can set off or worsen your asthma symptoms. Once you know what these factors are, you can take steps to control many of them. For example, if exposure to pollens or air pollution makes your asthma worse, try to limit time outdoors when the levels of these substances are high in the outdoor air. If animal fur sets off your asthma symptoms, keep pets with fur out of your home or bedroom.
If your asthma symptoms are clearly linked to allergies and you can’t avoid exposure to those allergens, then your doctor may advise you to get allergy shots for the specific allergens that bother your asthma. You may need to see a specialist if you are thinking about getting allergy shots. These shots may lessen or prevent your asthma symptoms, but they can’t cure your asthma.
Several health conditions can make asthma more difficult to manage. These conditions include runny nose, sinus infections, reflux disease, psychological stress, and sleep apnea. Your doctor will treat these conditions as well.
Your doctor will consider many things when deciding which asthma medicines are best for you. Doctors usually use a stepwise approach to prescribing medicines. Your doctor will check to see how well a medicine works for you; he or she will make changes in the dose or medicine, as needed.
Asthma medicines can be taken in pill form, but most are taken using a device called an inhaler. An inhaler allows the medicine to go right to your lungs. Not all inhalers are used the same way. Ask your doctor to show you the right way to use your inhaler. Ask him or her to review the way you use your inhaler at every visit.
Most people who have asthma need to take long-term control medicines daily to help prevent symptoms. The most effective long-term medicines reduce airway inflammation. These medicines are taken over the long term to prevent symptoms from starting. They don’t give you quick relief from symptoms.
If your doctor prescribes a long-term control medicine, take it every day to control your asthma. Your asthma symptoms will likely return or get worse if you stop taking your medicine. Long-term control medicines can have side effects. Talk to your doctor about these side effects and ways to monitor or avoid them.
All people who have asthma need a quick-relief medicine to help relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up. These medicines act quickly to relax tight muscles around your airways when you’re having a flare-up. This allows the airways to open up so air can flow through them.
You should take your quick-relief medicine when you first notice your asthma symptoms. If you use this medicine more than two days a week, talk with your doctor about how well controlled your asthma is. You may need to make changes in your asthma action plan.
Carry your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times, in case you need it. If your child has asthma, make sure that anyone caring for him or her and the child’s school has the child’s quick-relief medicines. They should understand when and how to use them and when to seek medical care for your child.
You shouldn’t use quick-relief medicines in place of prescribed longterm control medicines. Quick-relief medicines don’t reduce inflammation.
Most people who have asthma, including many children, can safely manage their symptoms by following the steps for worsening asthma provided in the asthma action plan. However, you may need medical attention. Call your doctor for advice if
- your medicines don’t relieve an asthma attack.
- your peak flow is less than half of your personal best peak flow number.
Call 9-1-1 for an ambulance to take you to the emergency room of your local hospital if
- you have trouble walking and talking because you’re out of breath.
- you have blue lips or fingernails.
At the hospital, you will be closely watched and given oxygen and more medicines, as well as medicines at higher doses than you take at home. Such treatment can save your life.
Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, www.nhlbi.nih.gov
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, May/June 2010.