Self-Care and Management

There are things you can do for yourself to help manage your asthma, like taking your medicine, avoiding triggers such as smoke or allergens, and following an asthma action plan to help prevent attacks.

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There are things you can do to control your asthma.

Taking medicines

  • Take your controller medicine to treat inflammation every day, not just when you have symptoms. Controller medicine is usually an inhaled corticosteroid. The goal is to prevent problems before they occur. Don't use your controller medicine to try to treat an asthma attack that has already started. It doesn't work fast enough to help.
  • Use your quick-relief medicine when you have symptoms of an asthma attack. Quick-relief medicine often is an albuterol inhaler. Some people need to use quick-relief medicine before they exercise.
  • If your doctor prescribed corticosteroid pills to use during an asthma attack, take them as directed. They may take hours to work, but they may shorten the attack and help you breathe better.
  • Keep your quick-relief medicine with you at all times.
  • Learn how to use your inhaler the right way. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help.

Avoiding triggers

Common triggers include colds, smoke, air pollution, dust or dust mites, pollen, mold, pet dander, cockroaches, stress, and cold, dry air. Here are some ways to avoid triggers:

  • Don't smoke, and don't let others smoke around you. Smoking makes asthma worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Avoid colds and the flu. Get the flu vaccine every year, and ask your doctor about getting the pneumococcal shot.

Following an asthma action plan

An asthma action plan is a written plan that will help you control your asthma every day and know what to do during an asthma attack. If you don't have an action plan, work with your doctor to make one. An asthma action plan usually includes:

  • An outline of which medicines you take daily for asthma control and when to take them.
  • Steps to take and medicines to use to treat an asthma attack early, before it becomes severe.
  • What to do if an asthma attack becomes an emergency, and where to get medical treatment.
  • An asthma diary where you record peak expiratory flow and the triggers that cause asthma symptoms.

What you can expect from using an asthma action plan

If you are in your green zone, keep taking daily controller medicine if you have it. You do not need quick-relief treatment.

If your symptoms are mild or moderate (in the yellow zone), treat them at home using the medicines specified in your asthma action plan. You can expect some relief of your asthma symptoms. Seek medical help if the symptoms do not go away soon after you take the prescribed medicine or if the symptoms become worse.

If your symptoms are severe (in the red zone), seek medical help immediately. While you are seeking emergency help, follow your action plan and take your medicines as directed. You may need emergency room treatment or admission to the hospital. After a severe asthma attack, you may need a short treatment using corticosteroids by mouth to bring your symptoms under control.

Asthma action plan: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are in the red zone of your asthma action plan.
  • You’ve used your quick-relief medicine but are still having trouble breathing.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have new or worse trouble breathing.
  • You cough up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You need to use quick-relief medicine more than two days each week (unless it’s just for exercise).
  • Your coughing and wheezing get worse.

Getting past barriers to following your asthma treatment plan

You may have several reasons for finding it hard to follow your asthma treatment plan. But if you can figure out how to handle the challenges, this may help you stay on your treatment and take good care of yourself.

Here are some challenges and possible solutions. Maybe some of the reasons below are challenges you have with following your treatment plan.

Challenge

You may not fully understand how serious asthma is. Some adults who have mild symptoms may not feel that treatment is needed.

Possible solution

  • Learn all you can about asthma. Even if you don't have symptoms, asthma can hurt your lungs. This could possibly lead to worse symptoms later in life.
  • Understand the benefits of treating asthma and the risks of not treating asthma.

Challenge

It may be hard to visit or talk with a doctor or pharmacist. This could be because of distance and a lack of transportation, cultural or language barriers, a lack of trust, or miscommunication. All of this can lead to little guidance about what to do.

Possible Solutions

  • Work with others to ensure that you have transportation to your doctor and pharmacy.
  • Work with your doctor to develop personal goals and expectations for your treatment.
  • If you don't understand something, ask about it.
  • If you don't feel comfortable with your doctor, think about looking for a new one.
  • If language is a problem, have a friend help you or get in touch with a social organization.

Getting past barriers to taking asthma medicines

Taking medicines for asthma every day can be hard to get used to. You may have several reasons for finding it hard to take your medicines. But if you can think of your medicines in a new way and figure out how to handle the challenges, you can make peace with your medicines. And that will help you take good care of yourself.

Here are some challenges and possible solutions. Maybe some of the reasons below are challenges you have with taking your medicines.

Reason you might not take your medicine

Possible solutions

Someone or something interrupts you when you're taking your medicine.

  • Ask the person to wait a minute while you take your medicine.
  • Don't put your medicine down. Keep it in your hand or on your lap. This way it remains in front of you, and you are less likely to forget about it.

You make a change in what you usually do every day.

  • Think about how the change will affect your medicine schedule. Make sure there's still a convenient time to take your medicine.
  • Always take your quick-relief medicine with you.
  • Ask a friend to remind you.
  • Place a reminder someplace where you'll see it, such as in your car or on a house key.
  • Use a reminder app on your smartphone.

Something happens during the day so that you can't take it.

  • Always keep extra medicines in your car, or carry them with you.
  • Talk to your doctor about what you should do if you miss a dose. Can you make it up?

You're out of medicine.

  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about how long your medicine will last. Use a calendar or day planner to remind yourself to get new medicine.
  • Get your refill before your supply runs out.
  • Ask your pharmacist to give you a phone call a few days before you need to refill your prescription.
  • Use an automatic refill service if your doctor or pharmacy offers it.

You feel good, so you don't take your medicine.

  • Remember that you feel good because you're taking the medicine.
  • Make it a habit to take your medicine at the same time when you do one of your daily activities, such as when you eat or brush your teeth.
  • Ask a family member or friend to remind you.

You take many medicines, and you aren't sure what to take or when to take them.

  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and write down what he or she tells you. Or ask that a calendar be set up for you.
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You just forget.

  • Put a sign in the bathroom or on the refrigerator as a reminder.
  • Make it a habit to take your medicine at the same time when you do one of your daily activities, such as when you eat or brush your teeth.
  • Ask a family member or friend to remind you.
  • Use a reminder app on your smartphone.

You don't think the medicine is working.

  • Remember that some medicines don't help immediately but may take time.
  • Ask your doctor about tracking your peak expiratory flow. You may not notice a difference when taking your medicine, but your lung function may be better.
  • Talk to your doctor.

You're having problems using an inhaler or don't know how to use it.

  • Ask your doctor or nurse how to use an inhaler.
  • Use a spacer with a metered-dose inhaler.
  • Ask your doctor about medicines that don't need an inhaler.

You have side effects or are worried about having them.

  • Talk to your doctor about side effects you are having or that you worry about. You may be able to try another medicine.
  • If an upset stomach is a problem, ask your doctor if you can take the medicine with a meal.
  • Remember that corticosteroid medicines are not the same as steroids that athletes sometimes abuse to increase their performances or the size of their muscles (anabolic steroids).

You may not be able to afford medicines and medical care.

  • Get in touch with social services or religious groups about possible help.
  • Get in touch with Medicaid, a government program that may be able to help you.
  • Talk to your doctor. He or she may have samples you can use.
  • Contact the drug company or ask your doctor to do this. Some drug companies have programs that help people get medicine if they can't afford it.

Your mood or feelings may make it hard to take the medicine.

  • Have others remind you or gently encourage you to take the medicine.
  • See your doctor.

©2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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Self-Care

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Causes & Risk Factors

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Prevention

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Symptoms & Diagnosis

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Complications

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Treatment

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Self-Care

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