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. Controlling asthma according to your treatment plan may help prevent 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 the help of your doctor, you can have control over your asthma and become symptom-free most of the time. But remember your asthma does not go away when your symptoms go away. You must take 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
Signs that your asthma is not well controlled can include any of the following:
- You have symptoms more than 2 days a week
- You need to use your rapid-acting medication to relieve your symptoms more than 2 days in a week
- Your medications don't work as well as they used to work
- Your symptoms interfer with sleep
- Your symptoms interfere with your normal activity
- Your peak flow is below 80% of your personal best
- You have to seek medical help right away due to an asthma attack
Work With Your Doctor
Consider the following tips for working with your doctor on an asthma control plan:
- Agree on clear treatment goals.
- Ask questions and 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 6 months to check your asthma and review your treatment.
- Consider using an online program to manage your symptoms. These programs can help to improve asthma control and lung function. Organizations like the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offer information on asthma management and support groups. Your doctor can also recommend an online program.
- Stay in contact with your doctor between visits, especially if your symptoms are changing. Whether you stay in contact over the phone or through your doctor's website, good communication can help you stay out of the hospital and have better control of your asthma.
Take the Right Medications at the Right Time
There are 2 main kinds of asthma medications: long-term control medications and short-term (quick-relief or rescue) medications.
Long-term Control Medications
Long-term control medications prevent symptoms and control asthma. It often takes a few weeks before you feel the full effects of this medication. Ask your doctor about taking daily long-term control medications if you:
- Have asthma symptoms 3 or more times a week
- Have asthma symptoms at night more than twice in a month
- Have trouble doing all your normal activities
- Have a peak flow less than 80% of your personal best
If you need long-term control medication, you will need to take it each day. Post reminders to yourself to take your medication on time.
For almost everyone with persistent asthma, a long-term control regimen should include a form of inhaled steroid. Ask your doctor if you are not sure whether a steroid is part of your treatment or if it should be.
If you are still having symptoms with a steroid inhaler, other types of long-term control medications can be added.
Short-term, Quick-relief, or Rescue Medications
Inhaled quick-relief medication quickly relaxes and opens your airways and relieves asthma symptoms. But it only helps for about 4 hours. Take quick-relief medication when you first have symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness. This can keep you from having a more severe 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 medications needs to be increased, changed, or added to.
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 medication
- When you are having asthma symptoms or an attack, and after taking medication for the attack This can tell you how bad your asthma attack is and whether your medication 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.
Make sure you keep a record of the readings to share with your doctor during visits.
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:
- Upper respiratory infections or the flu
- Tobacco smoke—active or passive
- Dust mites
- Animal dander
- Cold air
- Indoor mold
- Pollen and outdoor mold
- Vacuum cleaning
- Smoke, strong odors, and sprays
- Certain medications—tell your doctor about all the medications you take
- Sulfites in foods and drinks
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Asthma Society of Canada
Asthma exacerbation in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 2, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Explore asthma. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2016.
How to use your peak flow meter. Asthma Initiative of Michigan website. Available at: http://www.getasthmahelp.org/peak-flow-how-to.aspx. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Is your asthma under control? Asthma Initiative of Michigan website. Available at: http://getasthmahelp.org/under-control.aspx. Accessed April 14, 2016.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: McLean S, Chandler D, Nurmatov U, et al. Telehealthcare for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(10):CD007717.
Last reviewed April 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 4/14/2016