1. What tips do you have for identifying asthma triggers?
Keeping an asthma diary, checking your peak flow measurements, and getting tested for allergies can help you identify triggers.
An asthma diary can help you keep track of symptoms, as well as where you are or what you’re around when you experience symptoms. This can help you identify patterns and narrow down possible triggers.
You can also measure your peak flow regularly and record the measurements in your asthma diary. This can help identify triggers that don’t cause symptoms immediately, but still narrow your airways.
Lastly, allergens are a common asthma trigger, so ask your doctor about blood or skin tests to identify potential allergens.
2. How do I know if I need to switch my medication or increase the dose?
Your asthma is considered under control if:
- you experience symptoms less than three days a week
- you wake up at night less than three times a month
- you use your short-term relief inhaler less than three times a week
- your symptoms don’t interfere with your normal activities
You may need to switch your medication or increase the dose if you’re having symptoms or nighttime awakenings more frequently. Also, if you need to use your short-term relief inhaler more frequently or you’re having more difficulty performing your normal activities, talk to your doctor about modifying your treatment.
3. How can I be better prepared for an asthma attack?
Develop an asthma action plan with your doctor so you can prepare for and prevent asthma attacks. An action plan documents steps to take and when to take them to keep your asthma from getting worse.
Typically, your plan will list:
- your known triggers
- your regular asthma medications
- symptoms or peak flow measurements that indicate your asthma is getting worse
- how to change the frequency or dose of your medications based on your symptoms or peak flow measurements
- when to seek urgent medical attention and what to do in an emergency
4. What symptoms mean I need emergency care?
You should seek emergency care if:
- you’re breathing hard and fast
- you’re wheezing constantly
- you can’t speak in full sentences
- you have to use your chest muscles to breathe
- you notice your lips or fingernails become bluish or gray
You should also seek emergency care if your symptoms don’t improve within 15 to 20 minutes after using your short-term relief inhaler, or if they return again quickly.
5. What are some of the best ways to reduce the frequency of asthma attacks?
The best ways to prevent asthma attacks include avoiding your known triggers and taking your asthma medications as prescribed.
You should also develop an asthma action plan with your doctor if you haven’t already. This plan specifies your medications, as well as instructions for what to do routinely and when you have symptoms. Following your plan can keep your asthma under control and prevent it from getting worse.
6. Do you have any tips for remembering my action plan when I’m on the go?
If you have a smartphone, you can take pictures of your asthma action plan. There are also asthma apps you can download on your phone that let you document your action plan.
Share your action plan with your loved ones, and keep copies of the plan at home, at work, and in your car.
7. What tips do you have for tracking my asthma symptoms and triggers?
The best tip is to use an asthma diary and write in it daily. You can download templates for asthma diaries from the internet, such as this one.
If you prefer to use your smartphone, you can download asthma apps to help you track your symptoms and triggers.
8. How often should I update my asthma action plan?
You should review your action plan with your doctor at least once a year and update it if needed. You’ll also need to update it whenever your asthma medications change.
Other reasons to update your plan include any exacerbations that lead to an emergency room visit or if you notice a change in your usual asthma control.
9. What do the different “zones” mean in an action plan?
The green zone is where you want to be. It means you’re not having any asthma symptoms and you should continue to use your daily controller medications prescribed by your doctor.
The yellow zone means you’re having mild-to-moderate symptoms. The red zone means you’re having severe symptoms or an asthma flare-up.
In both cases, you should follow the steps in your action plan. If you’re in the yellow zone, call your doctor. If you’re in the red zone, seek urgent medical attention if your symptoms don’t improve.
Dr. Cattamanchi is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). He completed his internal medicine residency training and pulmonary and critical care fellowship training at UCSF. He currently practices at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, where he attends on the pulmonary consultation service and the medical intensive care unit.