5 Steps for Asthma Self-Management
You're in the driver's seat when it comes to managing your asthma. Follow these five steps to help keep your asthma under control.
Even with asthma, you can expect to lead a normal, active life. The key is self-management. Work in these five steps to asthma self-management and you'll be well on your way to keeping your asthma under control.
- Form a partnership with your doctor.
Work with your doctor and the medical staff on an ongoing basis. They are your teachers. During your visits, they:
- Show you how to use a peak flow meter to monitor your asthma and tell you when you should use it
- Make sure you know when and how to use an inhaler correctly
- Review your asthma triggers and suggest ways to avoid them
But the partnership is a two-way street. Be sure to ask questions and stick with the plan.
- Learn your symptoms
Most people with asthma underestimate how severe their symptoms are. Don't guess about your condition. Be aware that the following symptoms and conditions may indicate an asthma attack and will help guide your management plan:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Other symptoms or patterns to watch out for:
- Coughing at night
- Cough and wheeze after exercise
- Symptoms after exposure to pollen, dust or other airborne allergens
- Learn your asthma triggers and how to avoid them
You don't have to have asthma very long to know what gets you wheezing and coughing. Your asthma triggers are probably different from someone else's. So be familiar with your own. Once you know your triggers, talk to your doctor about how to avoid them. By avoiding triggers you'll reduce asthma attacks. Common triggers and a few tips to avoid them are:
- Allergens. These are airborne particles that cause an allergic reaction (sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat) in some people and can also trigger asthma symptoms. Common asthma allergens are:
- Pollen. Especially a problem during hay fever season (spring and fall). One way to avoid pollen is by closing windows, using an air conditioner and staying indoors from late morning to early afternoon during the height of the pollen season.
- Animal dander. The scales and dried saliva on animal fur and skin. Keep the pet out of the bedroom.
- Dust mites. These are barely visible bugs that thrive in furniture upholstery, carpets, stuffed animals and mattresses. Encase your mattress and wash the pillow cover each week.
- Cockroaches. It's actually their droppings that trigger asthma. Keep the kitchen clean.
- Molds. Mold is found outdoors around compost piles and dead leaves and in damp basements. Use a dehumidifier if you spend time in a humid environment.
- Irritants. These are substances you breathe in that irritate your lungs. The number one culprit is tobacco smoke. If you smoke, you must quit to control your asthma. Seek advice from your doctor about nicotine replacement products (like the patch) or prescriptions that can help. Find support from others who quit tobacco. Set a quit date and live smoke-free. It's also important to avoid secondhand smoke. Other irritants are air pollution, weather conditions (cold air) and strong odors.
- Exercise. If this is your only trigger, then you may have exercise-induced asthma. Luckily, most people with asthma can exercise. Talk to your doctor about using your inhaler or other medication before you exercise.
- Respiratory infections. A cold, the flu or sinus infection can bring on asthma symptoms. Get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Frequent heartburn can be linked with asthma.
- Emotions. Crying or laughing hard can make some asthmatics wheeze.
- Sulfites. These are found in dried fruit, shrimp, beer and red wine. Avoid foods with sulfites if they cause a problem for you.
- Medications. Aspirin and NSAIDS have been reported to cause severe airway reactions in some people with asthma.
- Know your medications and how to take them.
- The medicines. There are two types of medications for asthma: controller medicine and quick-relief medicine. Controller medicine prevents asthma attacks and is taken every day, even if you don't have symptoms. Quick-relief medicine is taken when you have symptoms, to stop an asthma attack from getting worse.
- Delivery device and proper technique. There are two devices commonly used to deliver your asthma controller medication: metered-dose inhaler and dry powder inhaler. You work with your doctor to decide which is best for you and learn to use them correctly. Getting this right is the key to getting the medication into your airways where it's needed.
- Monitor your asthma and respond to warning signs.
Asthma symptoms can change from day to day. On some days, you feel great and may even forget you have asthma. On other days, wheezing and coughing may hold you back. Because asthma is dynamic, it's important to monitor your condition. You keep track of asthma using two tools: a symptom diary and peak flow monitoring. With these tools, you can then respond to changes according to your asthma action plan.
- Keep a symptom diary. This record of symptoms will help your doctor adjust treatments over time.
- Use a peak flow meter. If you have asthma attacks at least twice a week or two nights in a month, you should learn how to use a peak flow meter. This is a handheld device that measures how well you can move air out of your lungs. The peak flow result tells you if your asthma is under control, warns you when you're getting worse and can help tell you if your medicine is working during an attack. Use your peak flow regularly to reduce visits to the doctor and to the emergency room.
- Follow your asthma action plan. This is a written set of step-by-step instructions to treat your asthma every day based on symptoms and peak flow readings. Your action plan tells you what to do on good days and also guides you if your symptoms get worse. By following your action plan, you can expect fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions.