Knowing the warning signs of an asthma attack and what to do if one occurs is key to your asthma treatment.
By Madeline Vann, MPH
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin MD, MPH
Staying calm is the most important thing you can do during an asthma attack, and planning ahead can help you keep your cool. A personalized asthma action plan can reduce your stress and give you a sense of control during an asthma attack if it develops. Thinking ahead can also help you know which asthma treatments to turn to when you start to feel the symptoms of an asthma attack coming on and help you choose the right medications for the particular circumstances.
Create Your Own Asthma Attack Action Plan
To begin, you need to work with your doctor to develop a flowchart of the medications you should take in response to your symptoms.
“Anyone who has asthma should not leave the doctor’s office without a written management plan. They need to feel like they know what is going on with their asthma should something happen, what they should do if they get more symptoms, and when they should call their physician,” says Robert F. Lemanske, Jr., MD, head of the Division of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology and professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, Wis.
Make sure your asthma action plan includes what to do for these specific signs of an asthma attack:
• Shortness of breath
• A feeling of a tightness in the chest
• Coughing at night or early morning
If you have a hard time identifying asthma attack symptoms, learn how to use a peak flow meter, a portable device that measures your ability to push air out of your lungs. Make a note on your asthma action plan of what your results are when your asthma is under control and what you should do when those results change.
Prepare for an Asthma Attack
Even when your asthma has been under control for some time, you can still have an asthma attack. Here’s how to prepare:
•Know your triggers. Whether it’s a certain situation or time of year, knowing your triggers is essential to managing your asthma. Some common triggers include cat dander, smoke, seasonal allergies, and respiratory infections.
•Share your asthma action plan. Tell people who spend time with you, such as co-workers and family members, where you keep your action plan and what they should do in an emergency.
•Keep rescue medications accessible. “If there is any one drug that most asthmatics should have on board, it would probably be the albuterol inhaler,” advises Richard Castriotta, MD, professor of medicine and associate director of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Place these “rescue inhalers” in a variety of locations so you can get to them easily: in your gym bag, at work, and in several places at home. Make sure that you have spacers or valve-holding chambers (hand-held devices your doctor can prescribe which make it easier to use the inhaler correctly) on hand if you need those to use your inhaler properly. If there are other rescue medications that you need during an asthma attack, such as steroid tablets, keep those with you as well.
•Write down important phone numbers. Your asthma action plan should include the phone numbers of your doctor’s office and the closest emergency room, as well as people to notify when you have an asthma attack, such as your spouse, parents, or close friends. Keep a card with this information written on it in your wallet or purse.
•Know when to ask for help. If you have followed the action plan agreed upon by you and your doctor and have taken your medications as prescribed, but your symptoms are not going away, ask for additional help from your health care provider.
Bottom line on asthma action plans: Take the time to make, and then become familiar with, an asthma action plan. By doing this when you feel well, you will have a blueprint in hand that will serve you — and those around you — well if an asthma attack occurs.
NB: Medical information you obtain here is for information purposes only and does not replace your personal Physician’s management plan regarding your disease condition , contact your doctor or a physician for your medical needs.