Ivy Children's Clinic

Asthma

Asthma Action Plan

A Personal Guide to Recognizing, Treating & Preventing Symptoms

After the diagnosis, you and your doctor will draw up your own personal plan of treatment, called an Asthma Action Plan.

This written document will spell out how to treat your asthma daily, what to do when symptoms get worse, and how to handle situations such as exercise or when you have a cold or virus.

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As you are developing your plan with your healthcare team, be sure you understand the following information:

1. What medicines you should take, especially:

  • What each is called
  • Why you need it
  • How much to take
  • When to take it
  • How to use the inhaler or nebulizer device
  • How soon to expect results
  • Potential side effects

2. What your asthma triggers are and how to reduce or eliminate exposure to them.

3. How to monitor your asthma by tracking symptoms or peak flow readings.

4. How to recognize and handle worsening asthma, including:

  • What signs to watch for
  • How to adjust medicines in response
  • When to seek emergency care from your doctor or the emergency room (ER)
  • What numbers to call in an emergency If you don’t have an Asthma Action Plan designed

If you don’t have an Asthma Action Plan designed specifically for you, make an appointment to talk with your healthcare professional about it as soon as possible. Go over each detail with your healthcare team until you are confident you understand it and can follow it in your daily life. Ask questions. Talk about any problems you think you might run into. Your Asthma Action Plan will change as your asthma improves or worsens. Review the plan with your doctor at every appointment, including follow-up visits when your asthma is under control.

What are some warning signs of asthma?

Warning signs vary from one person to another but can be as simple as a tickle in the throat or chest, a sharp or sudden cough, a feeling of extreme tiredness or the feeling that you simply can’t get a good, deep breath. When you keep a daily symptom diary, you will recognize the pattern of your early warning signs.

Warning signs vary from one person to another but can be as simple as a tickle in the throat or chest, a sharp or sudden cough, a feeling of extreme tiredness or the feeling that you simply can’t get a good, deep breath. When you keep a daily symptom diary, you will recognize the pattern of your early warning signs.

What’s the first thing to do when symptoms begin?

The moment you first notice symptoms, use your prescribed quick-relief bronchodilator (such as albuterol or levalbuterol). These medications relax the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe within a few short minutes. Some people mistakenly call these medications “rescue inhalers,” which gives the impression that they should only be used in an emergency situation. Using these medications at the first sign of symptoms or before exercise can prevent symptoms from getting out of control.

What are the signs that you need to get medical help?

One or more of these signs indicate the need for immediate medical treatment:

  • Symptoms don’t respond as indicated in your Asthma Action Plan.
  • It feels like you can’t catch a good deep breath or can’t get the air out of your chest.
  • You can’t talk except in short phrases.
  • You have a cough that will not stop or you simply feel too exhausted to breathe.
  • Your shoulders tense and raise closer to your ears than normal.
  • It’s easier to breathe while sitting and leaning forward than when lying down.
  • Your fingernails turn blue, or your lips become bluish or gray in color.
  • You start sweating even though your skin feels clammy and cold.
  • The skin around your chest, ribs and collarbones sinks in with each breath and you’re using stomach muscles to help you breathe.
  • You experience swelling of your throat, tongue or limbs.

How do I prevent symptoms from coming back?

Once the obvious symptoms of an asthma flare end, think about what happened in the moments, hours or days leading up to the episode. Look for clues as to what may have triggered the symptoms. A daily symptom diary can help you track how well your symptoms respond to steps in your written Asthma Action Plan. By writing down your symptoms, medication use and peak expiratory flow rate (the reading from your peak flow meter) each day, you’ll notice a pattern to your symptoms. Use a daily symptom diary for at least three months (12 months is best) to find patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. With each discovery, you’ll see a new opportunity to stop the symptoms before they can stop you.

How do I avoid triggers?

When you find out what sets off your symptoms, do your best to avoid them. This may require a change in lifestyle, such as avoiding exposure to cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke; keeping pets out of the bedroom or removing them from the home; and placing dustmite- proof encasings on your pillows and mattress. It may mean changing your furnace filters more often or removing moldy carpeting and fixing the water leak that caused it. However, you may not be able to avoid every circumstance likely to result in asthma symptoms, such as going outside when pollen counts are high. That’s why asthma medications are a necessary part of your Asthma Action Plan. If you have allergic asthma, controlling allergies will help control your asthma. Immunotherapy can teach your immune system to respond less strongly to allergens such as animal dander, dust mites, molds and pollens.

How do I reduce the need for medications?

Over time, you will learn about your asthma and what makes your symptoms worse. As a result, you’ll find many ways to reduce your need for asthma medications.

  1. Find things in your home, work or school that bring on your symptoms and try your best to avoid exposure wherever possible.
  2. Learn about your treatment options and how to use your medications correctly. Different medications treat different parts of asthma. Find out from your medical care team exactly what each does in your body and when you’re supposed to use it. Some of these medications are used daily while others are used only when you’re having symptoms. Follow your Asthma Action Plan, even when you’re feeling well, with no symptoms.
  3. Treat asthma symptoms at the very first hint that they’re present. The longer asthma symptoms are allowed to continue, the more likely you will need to take more medications to get things back to normal.
  4. Take good care of yourself – eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep.

© 2016 Allergy and Asthma Network