Step 1: Education
The more you know about asthma, the better you will be able to deal with it. You need to know what asthma is, what your medications are – that is, the names and actions of your medications – and how to use them.
You can learn more about asthma by talking with your doctor/health care provider and by contacting patient support organizations for helpful materials about asthma.
Step 2: Environmental Control
Your doctor/health care provider can help you identify the things in your environment that may make your asthma symptoms worse.
You take an important step to prevent symptoms and attacks when you avoid or remove these things from your environment.
For instance, do you live or work around cigarette smoke, pets, dust, or mold? If your symptoms are triggered by any of these things, you may want to do the following:
- Stay away from cigarette smoke.
- Put allergy covers (i.e., dust mite-proof) on your mattress and pillows.
- Wash your sheets in hot water (130oF) every week to control dust mites.
- Use an air conditioner during the summer.
- Maintain low indoor air humidity (below 50%).
- Clean molds from wet areas.
- Remove pets from your home (especially from your bedroom).
Step 3: Peak Flow Monitoring
Peak flow monitoring helps to measure airway obstruction. You can do this with a peak flow meter – a small handheld device that measures your Peak Expiratory Flow Rate (PEFR). Your doctor will determine if a peak flow meter is right for you and will help you obtain one, if needed.
The PEFR (measured in liters per second) is the fastest rate that you can blow air out of your lungs. Checking your PEFR may help you identify changes in your airways before you have any noticeable symptoms.
Your PEFR will change according to the condition of your airways. For instance, the narrower the airways, the less air you can breathe out, even with a lot of effort.
On the other hand, the wider the airways, the more air you can breathe out and the better you can breathe.
By keeping track of your PEFR, you can often learn when an attack may be coming and take steps to control it before it has a chance to fully evolve.
In addition, by keeping a record of your PEFR, along with a record of daily symptoms, you can provide your doctor/health care provider with important information about how your treatment plan is working. Keeping a daily record also reminds you about your medicines and what triggers to avoid.
You can monitor your own PEFR with the help of the Daily PEFR and Symptom Diary found on this web site. Using it may also help you and your doctor/health care provider understand how well you are responding to treatment.
Step 4: Medications
Previously, treatments for asthma focused on relieving acute asthma symptoms and attacks. Today, treatment is also aimed at helping to prevent them from occurring at all.
There are two groups of asthma medications: “relievers” and “controllers”.
Reliever medicines are used to relieve asthma symptoms and treat acute asthma attacks.
A bronchodilator is typically reliever medicine. The main job of all bronchodilators is to first relax the muscles that have tightened around the airways during an asthma attack and then to open the blocked airways. This makes it easier for you to breathe again. Reliever medicines may also be used prior to exercise to help you avoid an asthma attack.
Often, reliever medicines may not have to be taken every day if your asthma is being controlled with your controller medication. Talk to your doctor/health care provider about when and how to use your reliever medicine.
The main job of controller medication is to reduce inflammation and swelling in the lungs. This inflammation is the underlying, ongoing characteristic of asthma-the quiet part of asthma-the part you cannot see, feel, or sense.
By reducing the inflammation and swelling, controller medications can help prevent asthma symptoms and attacks from starting.
Inflammation needs to be treated daily with your controller medicine, even when you’re feeling good. It’s like brushing your teeth every day to prevent cavities.
If you don’t take your controller medicine, your asthma may worsen and your symptoms may return.
Can asthma be cured?
Despite many efforts being made, we don’t have a cure for asthma. Asthma is a serious condition and, if left untreated, it can lead to lifestyle changes, airway damage, and poor health. Fortunately, we have medications that can help to effectively control and prevent asthma symptoms and attacks.
It is essential that you talk with your doctor/health care provider about your asthma. Develop an action plan for how to handle asthma emergencies, how to use your asthma medicines properly, and how to avoid or remove those things in your environment that can trigger your asthma symptoms.
Remember, asthma is a controllable condition when treated and managed effectively every day.