Living with Asthma

What does it mean to have asthma “under control?”

Your asthma is under control when it does not interfere with your everyday life and prevent normal activities. You should be able to sleep through the night without symptoms, have few or no daytime symptoms, exercise and complete your daily routines without using a quick-relief medication or using it on a minimal basis. If you experience any of these symptoms or disruptors, you should discuss with your health care provider how to improve your asthma management.

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Some of the ways to control your asthma include taking an active role by avoiding asthma triggers, using medication properly, working with a health care provider to develop an asthma action plan and having regular checkups. You also need to know when to seek emergency medical care for your asthma.

ASTHMA TRIGGERS, SYMPTOMS & WARNING SIGNS

The two main types of asthma triggers are irritants, which bother airways, and allergens, which cause reactions such as watery eyes, sneezing or a runny nose.

Asthma triggers are specific to each person living with asthma. People living with asthma need to know what triggers their own asthma and how to avoid those triggers. Some common triggers include:

Irritants

Allergens

Smoke Animals with fur and feathers
Air pollution Dust and dust mites
Extreme hot or cold weather Mold
Strong odors Pollen
Rodents and cockroaches

Additional Triggers

Respiratory infections Exercise
Strong emotions that cause
changes in breathing patterns
Stress

Learning which irritants and allergens trigger your asthma will help you avoid those triggers and manage your asthma. Although it’s not possible for you to control certain triggers, like pollen levels, there are many ways to make your home trigger-free for easier breathing.

Asthma symptoms also vary for each person. Common symptoms are:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness

Most people with asthma feel early warning signs that their asthma is acting up. These signs let you know something is wrong before your asthma gets worse. Early warning signs include:

  • Breathing changes
  • Throat clearing and/or itchiness
  • Trouble with sleeping
  • Headache
  • Chin itchiness

It is important to know your asthma triggers, symptoms and warning signs so you can use medication promptly and appropriately.

MEDICATIONS THAT RELIEVE and CONTROL SYMPTOMS

Based on your asthma symptoms, your health care provider will prescribe asthma medications designed to work best for you. The two main types of asthma medications are:

Quick-Relief Medication (Reliever)
Everyone with asthma should have access to quick-relief medication delivered with a metered-dose inhaler. Your quick-relief medication is used to treat asthma symptoms when they first begin. Within 10 to 15 minutes of use, your quick-relief medication should work to reduce squeezing of the muscles around your airways. If you are prescribed a quick-relief asthma inhaler, you should carry it at all times.

Long-term Control Medication (Controller)
This type of medication is taken daily (even if you are not experiencing symptoms) and works to reduce your airway inflammation and mucus production. This makes your airways less sensitive to triggers and prevents asthma flare-ups before they happen. Not everyone with asthma needs a long-term control medication. Your healthcare provider will determine your asthma severity and whether you need one.

There are several different asthma medication delivery systems. If you take inhaled medicines, you should practice using your inhaler at your health care provider’s office. If you take long-term control medicines, take them daily as your health care provider prescribes. Your health care provider may also advise you to use a peak flow meter to measure and record how well your lungs are working.

Every time you use an inhaler, it is important to also use a spacer, sometimes called a holding chamber. This device helps get more medication into the lungs. Learn how to properly use an inhaler with a spacer.

Be sure to create an asthma action plan with your health care provider so you can take care of your asthma before it gets out of control.

ASTHMA ACTION PLANS

Every person living with asthma should have an asthma action plan, a written document you complete wth your health care provider. If you are the parent/guardian of a child with asthma, you should complete an asthma action plan with your child’s health care provider. A copy of this plan should be given to any adult who provides care for your child.

An asthma action plan outlines the steps to prevent or manage an asthma episode. The plan is customized just for you or your child. It should include:

  • appropriate use of medications
  • what actions to take when you or your child is having asthma symptoms or a low peak flow reading
  • signs of an asthma attack
  • when to seek emergency care
  • emergency contact information

Download an asthma action plan form for you or your child to take to your next healthcare appointment. Illinois schools are required to have asthma action plans on file for every enrolled child with asthma.

AN ASTHMA EPISODE

Even with proper asthma management, your asthma may still flare up from time to time. When asthma flares up it is called an asthma episode or sometimes an asthma attack.

An episode can occur when a person with asthma is exposed to a trigger and shows one of the flare-up warning signs. These can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Follow your asthma action plan to relieve your symptoms. If they have not improved in 10-15 minutes, pay close attention for signs of an asthma emergency.

SIGNS OF AN ASTHMA EMERGENCY

An asthma emergency occurs when you have followed your asthma action plan and asthma symptoms have not improved within 10-15 minutes. Signs that you are having an asthma emergency include:

  • Difficulty talking (not able to finish a sentence) and/or walking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing, coughing, chest tightness
  • Skin sucking in by the ribs or neck (retractions)
  • Fingernails or lips turning pale, blue or gray

Any one of these symptoms means your asthma is serious and can be life-threatening. Use your reliever medicine right away, tell someone you are experiencing an asthma emergency, and go to the emergency room or call 911.

ASTHMA EDUCATION

Asthma education is an essential step in good asthma management.

RHA offers Fight Asthma Now©, an asthma self-management curriculum delivered to youth and teens in school settings. RHA’s asthma educators use engaging and active lesson plans to give youth and teens the tools and knowledge they need to identify and avoid triggers, manage asthma episodes and control asthma on a long-term basis. RHA also offers Asthma Management, a one-hour program for caregivers, to schools and in community settings. RHA’s Asthma-Friendly Childcare Toolkit is also available.

Each adult in a child’s life needs information on how to:

  • Remove triggers from a home, school or childcare center
  • Prevent asthma episodes
  • Help deliver asthma medicines
  • Handle asthma emergencies

For more information about Fight Asthma Now© or Asthma Management, contact Amy O’Rourke, Director of Programs, via email at aorourke@lungchicago.org or by phone at (312) 628-0217.