Tips for Controlling Your Asthma
Asthma that is not well controlled can cause many problems. People miss work or school, go to the hospital, or even die because of their asthma. But you do not have to put up with the problems that asthma can cause.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers the following tips to help keep your asthma under control:
Get Proper Care
You can prevent serious problems related to asthma by getting proper care. With your doctor’s help, you can control your asthma and become free of symptoms most of the time. But your asthma does not go away when your symptoms go away. You need to keep taking care of your asthma, even if you have a mild case.
Assess Your Symptoms
You may have all of these asthma symptoms, some of them, or just one. Symptoms can be mild or severe and may include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Use the following questionnaire to assess whether your asthma is under control. If your asthma is under control, you should be able to say “no” to all of the questions.
Is Your Asthma Under Control?
(Answer these questions “yes” or “no.” Do this just before each doctor’s visit.)
|In the past two weeks:|
|1. Have you coughed, wheezed, felt short of breath, or had chest tightness:|
|During the day?||YES||NO|
|At night, causing you to wake up?||YES||NO|
|During or soon after exercise?||YES||NO|
|2. Have you needed more “quick relief” medicine than usual?||YES||NO|
|3. Has your asthma kept you from doing anything you wanted to do?||YES||NO|
|4. Have your asthma medicines caused you any problems, like shakiness, sore throat or upset stomach?||YES||NO|
|In the past few months:|
|5. Have you missed school or work because of your asthma?||YES||NO|
|6. Have you gone to the emergency room or hospital because of your asthma?||YES||NO|
|What Your Answers Mean:|
Work With Your Doctor
- Agree on clear treatment goals with your doctor.
- Ask questions (eg, What should I do to control my asthma? When and why should I do these things?). Be sure to bring up any concerns.
- Tell your doctor if you think you’ll have trouble doing what is asked.
- Bring your medications and written action plan to each visit.
- Before leaving your doctor’s office, write down the things you are supposed to do.
- See your doctor at least every six months to check your asthma and review your treatment.
Take the Right Medications at the Right Time
There are two main kinds of asthma control medicines: long-term control medicines and short-term (quick-relief) medicines.
Long-term control medicines
Long-term control medicines prevent symptoms and control asthma. It often takes a few weeks before you feel the full effects of this medicine. Ask your doctor about taking daily long-term control medicines if you:
- Have asthma symptoms three or more times a week, or
- Have asthma symptoms at night, three or more times a month
If you need long-term control medicine, you will need to take your medicine each day. Post reminders to yourself to take your medicine on time.
For almost everyone with asthma, a long-term control regimen should include a form of inhaled cortisone (“steroid”); if you are not sure whether a steroid is part of your treatment, be sure to ask your doctor.
Short-term or “quick-relief” medicines
Inhaled quick-relief medicine quickly relaxes and opens your airways and relieves asthma symptoms. But it only helps for about four hours. Take quick-relief medicine when you first begin to feel symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. This can keep you from having an asthma attack. Do not delay!
Tell your doctor if you notice that you’re using more of this medication than usual. This is often a sign that your long-term control medicine needs to be changed or increased.
Use Your Peak Flow Meter Correctly
A peak flow meter helps you to check how well your asthma is controlled, especially if you have moderate to severe asthma. Ask your doctor or other healthcare providers to check how you use your peak flow meter—just to be sure you are using it correctly.
You should use your peak flow meter at the following times:
- Every morning when you wake up, before you take medicine
- When you are having asthma symptoms or an attack, and after taking medicine for the attack (This can tell you how bad your asthma attack is and whether your medicine is working.)
- Any other time your doctor suggests
If you use more than one peak flow meter (such as at home and at school), be sure that both meters are the same brand.
You can help prevent asthma attacks by staying away from things that make your asthma worse. Keep in mind that some things that make asthma worse for some people are not a problem for others.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Dust mites
- Animal dander
- Vacuum cleaning
- Indoor mold
- Pollen and outdoor mold
- Smoke, strong odors, and sprays
- Exercise, sports, work or play
- Sulfites in foods
- Cold air
- Certain medications (Tell your doctor about all the medications you take.)
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Asthma Society of Canada
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/. Accessed August 18, 2008.
National Institutes of Health. http://www.nih.gov/. Accessed August 18, 2008.
Last reviewed June 2008 by Jill D. Landis, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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