Asthma – Learning to Control Your Symptoms – includes a free patient information PDF!

Download the free patient handout PDF near the end of this article!

You can control asthma by keeping track of your symptoms, avoiding triggers, and taking your medicine as prescribed.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a long-term lung disease that narrows airways and causes shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. People with asthma are sensitive to certain things that make their asthma worse, called triggers.

It is important to know what your asthma triggers are so you can avoid them. It is also important to learn how to manage your asthma. People with asthma can lead normal active lives with the right treatment. Your health care provider can help you to find the best treatment.

Triggers: Things That May Trigger Asthma Attacks

  • Allergens (air pollution, dust, mold, pollen, or pet dander)
  • Exercise, heartburn, strong emotions, and stress
  • Sulfites (food preservative in red wine, beer, salad bars, dehydrated soups)
  • Strong scents (perfume, spray-on deodorants, cleaning products, or car exhaust)
  • Colds, flu (influenza), and respiratory infections
  • Smoke such as tobacco smoke or wood smoke
  • Aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Very cold or very hot weather

If pollen and mold cause your symptoms:

  • Stay in air-conditioned places with the windows closed during warm months or high pollen season.
  • Change the filter on your heating and cooling system often.
  • Clean and air out bathrooms, kitchens and basements often.
  • Keep the level of humidity (moisture) in your home under 50% (using an air conditioner or a dehumidifier).

If dust causes your symptoms:

  • Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
  • Cover mattresses and pillows in airtight covers.
  • Remove or clean carpets and drapes to reduce dust.
  • Try to avoid stuffed animals, dried flowers and other things that catch dust.

If pets cause your symptoms:

  • If you have a pet, keep it out of your bedroom.
  • Clean home well and use a HEPA filter to clean air.

Important: Do not allow people to smoke in your house or car.

What Medicines Treat Asthma?

Your asthma plan from your health care provider will tell you what medicine to take and when, and how to use peak flow meter if you need one. Usually, there are two types of medicines. Some people need to use both types of medicine.indian child asthma

  1. Quick Relief Medicines are commonly inhaled and relax airways to get quick relief.
  2. Anti-Inflammatory Medicines for long-term control are usually taken every day to prevent asthma attacks.

When to Get Medical Help Immediately

  • Your peak flow keeps dropping or falls below 50% of your best.
  • Your quick relief medicine won’t relieve your symptoms.
  • Your fingernails or lips turn gray or blue.
  • You have trouble walking or talking.
  • You have extreme difficulty breathing.
  • Your nostrils flare when you breathe.
  • Your neck, chest or ribs are pulled in when you breathe.

Tips for Using Asthma Medicine

You can print copies of this PDF handout for your patients, to reinforce what you have told them.
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  • Use your quick relief medicine at the first sign of an asthma attack or when your asthma is getting worse.
  • An asthma attack is easier to stop if you take your medicine as soon as it starts, so always keep your medicine with you.
  • You may need to have your health care provider check or change your asthma medicines if:
    • You use your quick relief medicine more than 2 days per week.
    • You use your quick relief medicine 3-4 times in one day.
  • Long-term control medicines must be taken regularly every day for them to work.
  • You must take your long-term control medicines even if you are not having symptoms.
  • Be sure you understand your asthma plan and how to take your medicine. If you are unsure, ask your health care provider to tell you again.

Warning Signs of an Asthma Attack

You can tell when you are about to have an asthma attack or are at risk of having an asthma attack if you look for these symptoms:

  • Tightness in the throat or chest
  • Feeling tired or having less energy
  • A high or scratchy voice
  • Peak flow 20% below your best
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
Used with permission from the Community Health Association of Mountain/Plains States (CHAMPS)