Approximately 25 million Americans suffer from asthma, and it is possible to successfully manage the disease to avoid complications. The key to living well with asthma is to learn about your illness and follow your asthma management plan as developed in collaboration with your doctor.
Asthma is a chronic disease that causes airways to become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing and chest tightness, each of which can lead to a medical emergency.
Step One: Getting Started
Work with your doctor to:
Understand your medicines. Asthma medications may be for quick relief or for long-term control.
Create an asthma action plan. Asthma action plans include information about your medications, recognizing worsening symptoms, how to treat symptoms before they become an emergency and what to do in an emergency.
Get appropriate vaccines. Infections like influenza and pneumonia can be more serious in patients with asthma. Talk to your doctor about getting appropriately vaccinated.
Understand when to follow up. You should follow-up as scheduled with your doctor or if there is any change in symptoms.
Step Two: Know Your Triggers
There are certain substances that often trigger an asthma attack, such as pollen, chemicals, extreme weather changes, smoke, dust mites, stress and exercise. Allergies to certain foods and products can also lead to an episode. Track your symptoms to learn what triggers an asthma attack. Avoid the triggers as much as possible, and if necessary, get tested for allergies to help you understand what can trigger an asthma episode. If you can’t avoid your triggers include in your action plan what to do when you encounter a trigger.
Step Three: Follow Your Asthma Action Plan
Everyone with asthma should have a written asthma action plan. If you are diagnosed with asthma, it is important to follow the treatment prescribed by your doctor. You may be prescribed long-acting preventive medication to take daily to help control asthma and avoid asthma attacks. Asthma patients are prescribed quick-acting medications, such as an inhaler, to take at the first sign of an attack.
Step Four: Track Your Asthma
- Monitor your symptoms and your peak flow readings.
- Recognize the early warning signs of asthma.
You may get tired, cough or feel tightness in your chest. A peak flow meter helps detect narrowing in your lungs before you feel symptoms. By blowing into the device, you can determine if your airway is narrowing. Using the meter regularly may help you to recognize a worsening of your asthma sooner, follow your asthma action plan and have fewer emergencies. Follow the steps outlined in your action plan and contact your provider for any new or increased frequency or severity of symptoms.
Step Five: Know What to Do in an Emergency
Following your asthma action plan will help you know what to do if your asthma is getting worse and when to seek help to prevent an emergency situation. Be sure to speak to your doctor and understand your plan.
Be sure to let your doctor know if you have been treated for an asthma exacerbation (in urgent care, an emergency department, hospital, or clinic) and make an appointment with them as soon as possible.