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Patients, Families and Caregivers

You don't have to sit on the sidelines with asthma

You can live with asthma and not battle for every breath. Health professionals know more about asthma now than they did a decade ago, and better treatments are available. With proper care, you can reduce the chronic inflammation of the airways that brings on asthma symptoms, like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. In addition, you can avoid asthma attacks that can send you and your family to the hospital in the middle of the night. While asthma has no cure, there are medications and other steps that you can take to control asthma.

Asthma symptoms appear when the airways in the lungs become inflamed (swollen), muscles around the airways constrict (tighten), and excess mucus builds up. This problem gets worse when you breathe in certain things, or when you get a cold or the flu. As the airways narrow, it is harder for air to get through and breathing becomes more difficult. Asthma symptoms may seem to come and go, but asthma itself does not completely go away.

Take asthma seriously

While asthma is common, especially among children, it also can be very serious. Poorly controlled asthma can disrupt sleep and limit everyday activities. Poorly controlled asthma also may delay growth in children. If you or your child has a severe asthma attack, get help right away. People can die from a severe asthma attack.

Raise your expectations

Don’t put up with asthma symptoms. You can stay healthy and active with asthma. Start with these five tips to get asthma under control every day and for many years to come.

  1. See your doctor. Visit your primary care physician, pediatrician, allergist, pulmonologist, or other health care professional to learn how to manage asthma. Asthma can change over time, so see your doctor regularly to adjust your treatment if needed.
  2. Ask your doctor for a written asthma action plan. Your written asthma action plan will remind you what to do every day to prevent asthma symptoms. It also will tell you what to do if an asthma attack happens. Share copies of the written asthma action plan with family members, caregivers, and others, such as school nurses, who can help.
  3. Take your medications as directed. Most people with asthma need one or more asthma medications. Ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or asthma educator to show you how to use the medications the right way, so they can work better.
  4. Tell your doctor what makes your symptoms worse. Your asthma triggers may include allergens (such as dust mites, cockroaches, pollen, mold, rats, mice, and pets), irritants (such as cigarette smoke, perfumes, pesticides, and gasoline fumes), and having a cold or the flu. Know your triggers and learn how to manage them.
  5. Watch your asthma and treat symptoms fast. Be prepared to respond quickly to the warning signs of an asthma attack. Your doctor also may give you a handheld peak flow meter so you can spot any decline in your asthma control even before symptoms appear.

Use medications as prescribed

Most people with asthma need two kinds of medications to control their asthma:

  1. Quick-relief medications that act fast to relax tight muscles around the airways. Always carry a quick-relief inhaler (short-acting bronchodilator) with you in case of an asthma attack. If you use your quick-relief inhaler more than two times a week, you may need a long-term control medication too. Talk with your doctor.
  2. Long-term control medications that help prevent asthma symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids work best to prevent problems from asthma. They must be taken every day to reduce the chronic airway inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids generally are safe for children and adults when taken as directed by a doctor.

To help you take your medication correctly, ask your doctor to prescribe a spacer or valved holding chamber to use with your inhaler. A spacer is a plastic tube with a mouthpiece. It helps to get the medicine from the inhaler directly into your lungs. Ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or asthma educator to show you how to use this helpful device.

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Last Updated February 2011

New Resource for Clinicians

Asthma Care Quick Reference
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New Resource for Schools

Cover of Asthma and Physical Activity in the School
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