Easy Steps For Managing Asthma and Minimizing Flare-Ups
Around 25 million Americans suffer from Asthma1. Although there are medicines to help manage and control asthma, it’s a lifelong condition with no cure. So, to stay happy and healthy, you need to be aware of the basic asthma self management techniques.
Understanding how to manage asthma is key to your physical and emotional health. That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide to help you improve your asthma management.
What is asthma?
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got asthma and have a pretty good idea of what it is. But just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s revisit some of the basic facts about asthma.
Asthma is a lung disease which makes your airways narrow and swell. This can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest tightness or pain.
Asthma can affect people of all ages — there are millions of adult and childhood asthma sufferers. For some, asthma is a mild irritation which can be easily managed. For others, it can cause painful symptoms and lead to severe asthma attacks2.
What does asthma feel like?
As well as chest pains and shortness of breath, the most common signs and symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks can happen suddenly but they can also develop slowly over a few days.
Is asthma life threatening?
Some asthma attacks can be life threatening but good asthma management can help lower the risk of attacks and avoid scary trips to the emergency department.
How can I manage my asthma?
Managing asthma is all about knowing your own body and monitoring your symptoms. It might seem scary, but effective asthma control can be as easy as following a few important steps.
1) Get an official asthma diagnosis
The first step towards effective management of asthma is to get a diagnosis from a health care provider. A healthcare professional will be able to provide you with asthma education and help you to understand the condition.
There are many different types of asthma including3:
- Exercise-induced Asthma
- Allergic Asthma
- Cough-variant Asthma
- Occupational Asthma
- Aspirin-induced Asthma
- Nighttime Asthma
- Steroid-resistant Asthma.
Your doctor should be able to give you the relevant health information to help you understand what type of asthma you have.
2) Understand your asthma triggers
Although there are common asthma symptoms, it affects everybody differently. Different situations trigger flare-ups for different people. As part of your asthma management plan, you need to know what’s normal for you as well as understand what your triggers are.
Some common asthma triggers include4:
- Airborne allergens like pollen, pet dander or dust mites
- Smoke and air pollution
- Exercise (especially when the air is cold and dry)
- Stress and anxiety
- Medications like aspirin, beta blockers and ibuprofen
- Preservatives which can be found in foods like shrimp or dried fruit
- Respiratory infections like cold and flu
- Chemical fumes
- Temperature and weather changes
Understanding what triggers your asthma flare-ups can help you to avoid things that cause problems for you. It’s not always possible to completely avoid these risk factors but knowing what they are will allow you to take steps to minimize the disruption.
Depending on your personal asthma triggers, you may need to include some of the following in your long-term control plan:
- Getting an annual flu shot
- Keeping up to date with vaccines
- Stress and anxiety management (like meditation)
- Regular hand washing
- Avoiding smoke (including fireplaces, camp fires, and BBQs)
- Limiting outdoor activity in high pollen times
- Keeping an eye on the air quality index
- Keeping pets out of bedrooms
- Vacuuming regularly
- Using a dehumidifier or air purifier to reduce mold
- Staying physically active
- Using quick relief medicine 15-30 minutes before exercise
3) Have your asthma medicine ready
Once you’ve figured out what your triggers are, your healthcare provider should prescribe you with the tools and medicine you need. There are many different asthma medicines out there and not all of them will be right for you. Uncontrolled asthma can be life threatening so it’s important to work with your doctor to find the best medical care solution for your asthma symptoms.
The most commonly recognized asthma medication is the inhaler. Some inhalers include a bronchodilator or beta agonist which relaxes the muscles around the airways. Others include anti-inflammatory medicine or inhaled corticosteroids. There are also asthma treatment plans that include a combination of both inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids. Some controller medication requires a metered dose inhaler, some also require a spacer (a chamber that is attached to the inhaler to allow for better distribution of the medication) and others can be taken in the form of a pill or through a nebulizer5.
The important thing to remember about your asthma medication is that there are short-acting and long-acting solutions. Short-acting solutions provide quick relief during an asthma attack whereas long-acting solutions are designed to prevent attacks in the first place.
Keeping on top of your medicine is essential to managing asthma. Some people set reminders on their phones while others pin a schedule up on the fridge. It doesn’t matter what system you use as long as taking your medication becomes part of your routine.
Creating a medicine kit for yourself is a great way to make sure that everything you need is in one place. You can even have a spare kit in the car or at the office to make sure that you’re always prepared.
Top tip: Ask your doctor to show you how to take your asthma medicine. Take some time to perfect this technique as it could make all the difference.
4) Make an Asthma Action Plan
When it comes to asthma care, planning ahead is key. If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma or are in charge of managing your child’s asthma, your doctor should help you to create an asthma action plan so that if it gets worse, you know exactly what to do.
Having an asthma action plan will ensure that you take control of your asthma. It can:
- Help you to anticipate and prevent flare-ups
- Minimize the risk of asthma attacks
- Prevent lung scarring
- Reduce anxiety, stress and panic in the event of an asthma attack
- Ensure that you can take quick action in an emergency
A good asthma action plan could save your life so make sure that you update it regularly (at least once a year) with a qualified clinician.
Top tip: Give a copy of your written asthma action plan to friends or family members so that they know exactly what to do if your asthma gets worse.
5) Keep monitoring
Asthma management is a lifelong commitment. With the right asthma care plan, you can reduce the chances of having an asthma attack. But it’s important to remember that your body (and the world around it) will change over time. Managing your asthma requires continuous monitoring in order to keep on top of your symptoms and triggers.
Using a peak flow meter is a great way to monitor your lung function. You should make a note of your peak flow test result so that you can spot any changes in your lung health. It’s important to remember that the number will be different for everyone depending on factors like age, sex and height. With regular use, you’ll learn which peak flow rating is normal for you and will then be able to notice subtle differences and take action to avoid an asthma attack.
It’s also important to monitor how you feel on your medication. Whether it’s unwanted side effects or simply a matter of “it’s no longer working for me” — make sure you discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. It’s all about finding the right solution for your body.
6) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Asthma will be a part of your life forever and during that time, your needs may change. It’s therefore important to stay in touch with your healthcare provider, especially if you are concerned that your asthma is getting worse. Reaching out for check-ups, updated information, medicine or even some reassurance is vital.
At Babylon Health, we provide 24/7 access to healthcare professionals so if you have questions about managing your asthma, we’re here to help. For video appointments on your phone, you can download the app and register using the Babylon code provided by your health insurance. If you don’t have a Babylon code through your insurance, you can still access some of our Digital Health Tools at no cost.
Top tip: If you want to play Dr Google or do your own research, make sure you only seek out reputable sources. Good places to start would be the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), American Lung Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute or — of course — Babylon Health.