Asthma is a chronic disease that causes your airways to become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. The severity of the affliction varies from person to person. For some, it is minor. For others, it interferes with daily activities. In some cases, attacks are life-threatening.
Asthma affects about 25 million Americans. There is no cure for the disease and, because of its episodic nature, it often flares unpredictably. The good news is that, with proper management, you can take control of your asthma and live a healthy life.
There are many ways to keep your asthma under control. Three are tracking your symptoms, reducing triggers, and understanding your medication.
- Track your symptoms
Keeping a record of symptoms is a key strategy for managing your asthma. An asthma flare-up or attack can happen at any time. Mild symptoms may last a few minutes, while more severe symptoms can last hours or days. Common symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, coughing, wheezing, and low activity levels.
Signs of a severe asthma attack include fast breathing with chest retractions (skin sucks in between or around the chest plate and/or rib bones when inhaling) and very pale or blue coloring in the face, lips, and fingernails.
The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends monitoring your daytime and nighttime symptoms, rescue-inhaler use, and activity levels. You should record your symptoms in a diary or in your phone, and share them with your doctor if you experience repeated flare-ups.
- Reduce your triggers
Identifying and reducing triggers is also important for asthma management. Symptoms often appear when you are exposed to a trigger, which is a thing, activity, or condition that makes asthma worse. Encountering a trigger causes swelling, mucus production, and narrowing of your airways.
Because the symptoms do not always occur immediately after exposure, this requires a bit of detective work and attention to detail. Common asthma triggers include respiratory infections, allergens, irritants, exercise, and emotion, according to the ALA.
Knowing what causes your asthma to flare is crucial to controlling it. Visiting your doctor for allergy testing is a great place to start for identifying triggers. Your physician can help you find solutions that will reduce triggers that make your asthma worse.
- Understand your meds
Each person’s asthma is different, and there is no best medicine for all people. Therefore, you should work with your doctor to figure out the medicine that’s right for you.
Asthma medicines relax the muscles in your airways to help you breathe easier, and others reduce the swelling and mucus production. You take most asthma medicines by breathing them in using an inhaler, but some can be taken in pill form. There are two types of asthma medication: quick-relief and long-term-control medicine.
Long-term-control medicines help you prevent and control asthma symptoms and may need to be taken every day for best results. Common long-term-control medicines include corticosteroids (inhaled or pill form), long-acting beta agonists (inhaled), and leukotriene modifiers (pill form).
Quick-relief medicines act fast to open your airways and relieve asthma symptoms when they happen. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, these medicines shouldn’t be taken more than twice a week. Common quick-relief medicines include short-acting beta agonists and anticholinergics (both inhaled).
Communicating with your physician is perhaps the most critical component of asthma management. Your physician will help you identify your triggers and appropriate medication, and design an asthma management plan that is right for you.
Taking control of your asthma is challenging for many, but it doesn’t have to be. See your doctor and develop a plan today.