Asthma is a chronic lung condition that can affect both adults and children, causing recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing (usually at night or in the early morning). 1
Once you or a loved one have been diagnosed with asthma, you need to find out what you can do to best manage the condition. This article covers some steps you can take to keep asthma under control. 2
Understand your treatment
There are a number of treatments available for asthma, and your healthcare provider will decide which is best for you, based on your symptoms and your needs. By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can: 2
• Breathe better;
• Do more of the activities you want to do;
• Have fewer symptoms.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing asthma symptoms, are not sure if you are taking your medicine properly, or if you have side effects. They can help make sure you know the correct way to take the medicines, or they may adjust the medicines you are taking.
Assess and monitor your asthma symptoms
Monitoring your symptoms is an important part of controlling your asthma. Keep a diary of your symptoms and share it with your healthcare provider to help you both to see if your asthma is under good control. Take note of: 2
• Day-time symptoms: how often do you have coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest during the day?
• Night-time symptoms: do any symptoms wake you up at night?
• Rescue inhaler use: how often do you need to use your rescue inhaler to relive your symptoms?
• Activity level: do you have problems performing normal daily activities, like walking, climbing stairs, or chores?
Avoid your asthma triggers
An asthma trigger is something, such as an activity or condition that makes your asthma worse or causes an asthma attack. Certain triggers can be identified through testing. Knowing what triggers your asthma and finding ways to avoid or minimise your exposure to it is vital to improving your asthma control. Common triggers include: 2,3
• Medical conditions: respiratory infections like colds, flu and sinus infections are the most common causes of asthma flare-ups. Acid reflux that causes heartburn can also trigger symptoms.
• Certain foods: asthma can be triggered by common food allergies such as peanut and shellfish allergies.
• Certain medicines: aspirin and some anti-inflammatories and herbal medicines may worsen asthma symptoms. Discuss all medicines you take with your healthcare provider.
• Weather, pollen and air pollution: high pollen counts, extremes in temperature or humidity, and air pollution from cars, all types of smoke and smog are potential asthma triggers.
• Environment: dander and saliva from animals with fur or feathers can cause asthma symptoms in some people. Pests (cockroaches, dust mitesand rodents), strong odours and mould can also induce symptoms.
• Exercise: exercise, especially strenuous forms, may increase asthma symptoms in some people. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to manage this, as exercise is important to stay healthy and strengthen your heart and lungs.
• Emotions: strong emotions and stress may trigger an asthma attack.
Protect your health
There are many things someone with asthma can do to protect their health and minimise their asthma symptoms or attacks, for example: 1,2,3,4
• Do not smoke.
• Avoid exposure to pollutants that can damage your lungs and trigger an attack.
• "Allergy-proof" your environment:
• cover bedding with dust- or allergy-proof covers;
• replace carpets with hard flooring where possible, and vacuum regularly;
• use only unscented detergents and cleaning materials;
• clean regularly to minimise exposure to dust mites, mould,pests and animal dander;
• maintain an optimal humidity;
• eliminate tobacco smoke from the home.
• Prevent infection:
• wash your hands regularly;
• avoid crowds during cold and flu season;
• maintain good oral hygiene to protect you from the germs in your mouth that can lead to infections;
• ask your healthcare provider about annual flu vaccinations;
• eat a healthy diet rich in antioxidants;
• exercise appropriately.
• Go for regular check-ups.
Know when to call your healthcare provider
If asthma symptoms develop, you should call your healthcare provider. You may need to go to the emergency room if: 4
• You have an asthma episode that requires more medication than recommended;
• Your symptoms get worse or don't improve with treatment;
• You have shortness of breath while talking;
• Your peak flow measurement is 50-80% of your personal best.
Go straight to the hospital or emergency room if you experience:
• Drowsiness or confusion;
• Severe shortness of breath at rest;
• Extreme difficulty breathing;
• A peak flow measurement that is less than 50% of your personal best;
• Severe chest pain;
• A rapid pulse
• A bluish tint of your lips and face;
• Severe anxiety because of shortness of breath.
• Asthma is a chronic lung condition that can affect both adults and children, causing recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing.
• There are a number of treatments available for asthma, and your healthcare provider will decide which is best for you, based on your symptoms and your needs.
• By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can breathe better, do more of the activities you want to do, and experience fewer symptoms.
• Monitoring your symptoms is an important part of controlling your asthma.
• An asthma trigger is something, such as an activity or condition that makes your asthma worse or causes an asthma attack.
• Knowing what triggers your asthma and finding ways to avoid or minimise your exposure to it is vital to improving your asthma control.
• There are many things someone with asthma can do to protect their health and minimise their asthma symptoms or attacks.
1. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. What is Asthma section. Available from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/. Accessed 17 October 2012.
2. American Lung Association website. Taking Control of Asthma section. Available from: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/asthma/taking-control-of-asthma/. Accessed 17 October 2012.
3. The Mayo Clinic website. Asthma section. Available from: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/DS00021/DSECTION=lifestyle-and-home-remedies. Accessed 19 October 2012.
4. PubMed Health website. Asthma section. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001196/. Accessed 19 October 2012.
Author: Dr Sian Stein