Staying active and on top of your asthma can be challenging, especially
this time of year when pollen levels act as further irritants to your
respiratory system. But, by having an asthma action plan in place, you
can ensure you stay on top of those attacks and know how to manage them
when they happen.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes your airway passages to swell
up, restricting the flow of oxygen to and from your lungs and making it
difficult to breath. This tightening of airways inevitably leads to asthma
symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and shortness
of breath. Allergens present in the air, such as pollen or dust, are known
to trigger asthma attacks. Other asthma triggers include activities that
require some level of exertion.
When we exercise, we breath more rapidly because our muscles need more
oxygen to function at an increased pace. When we exhale, we exhale more
than just carbon dioxide; we exhale water too. An example of this is when
we breathe onto glass it creates a mist. "Water helps to keep the
lining of our lungs moist, which is necessary for the absorption of oxygen
through the lining of lungs and into our bloodstream," says
Ricardo Gomez, MD, a board-certified pulmonologist at
St. Mary High Desert Medical Group in Victorville. "When we exercise, rapid breathing dries out this
lining, aggravating our lungs and causes us to cough. For asthma sufferers,
it is this reduction of moisture that triggers asthma symptoms and asthma
What is an asthma action plan, and how can it help?
As an asthma sufferer, it can sometimes be difficult to analyze what is
happening, and what has caused it to happen, especially in the midst of
an attack. An asthma action plan is a series of considerations and steps
that can help you and those around you assess and analyze what is happening
when an asthma attack occurs, and what measures you can take to ensure
your safety. It is a plan that outlines what medication is required when,
how your attack can be treated, and what should be done in the case of
What should your action plan include?
Your health care provider can help you create an action plan that is right
for you. The
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a printed program that you can quickly fill out and carry with
you. It provides you with areas to list the medications you are on, and
the doses required as well as proposing a monitoring system to help you
get to grips with understanding your ‘peak flow.' "Peak
flow is used to measure the amount of air you can expel forcibly in one
second and whether or not it is in a normal range. Your normal range is
established by taking peak flow measurements daily for a week when you
feel your breathing is at your optimum level. Your health care provider
can supply you with the apparatus used to measure this," Dr. Gomez says.
Your action plan will include:
- Your doctor's name and contact details
- Emergency department phone number
- The medication you take, how much you take and when you should take it
- Quick-relief drugs that are only used in case of emergency
The action plan will be divided into three sections that help you and those
around you measure the severity of your symptoms.
The first section applies If you are doing well. Your symptoms will not
be noticeable. There will be:
- No coughing or wheezing
- Easy breathing
- No chest tightness
- An ability to do regular activities, such as walking, without disruption
or symptoms occurring
You may still need to use your inhaler or nebulizer. Your health care provider
will be able to let you know how often, so that you can include it in
The second section applies if your asthma is getting worse, and your symptoms
will become noticeable and include:
- Coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest
- An inability to sleep through the night due to interruptions caused by
- A failure to do some of your more regular, physical activities
If these symptoms occur, you will need to use your quick-relief medications
to prevent symptoms from getting worse, as listed on your plan.
The third section comes into play if your symptoms worsen to include any
of the following:
- Very short on breath and are having trouble walking
- Inability to do any of your regular activities
- Finger nails or lips turning blue
- Symptoms unchanged or have gotten worse in the past 24 hours
If you experience these symptoms and your quick-relief medication has not
helped, you should call for emergency care.
Who should have a copy of your plan?
"As an asthma sufferer, you should memorize your action plan as there
may be times when help is not immediately available," Dr. Gomez recommends.
"You should also make sure that your partner, close friends and work
colleagues also have a copy. It is also a good idea to keep a printed
copy on you at all times."
If your child suffers from asthma, be sure to give teachers or the school
nurse a copy of the plan too.
"Managing your triggers are an important part of keeping your symptoms
in check. It is challenging, especially at this time of year when there
is pollen everywhere, but it is possible. For example, keeping the windows
in the house closed and avoiding outdoor exposure in the late afternoon
and late morning, when pollen is at its worst, can help," Dr. Gomez
suggests. Pollen is not the only trigger. Mold, animal fur, smoke, dust
mites and even vacuum cleaning can trigger symptoms. Talk to your health
care provider about designing your asthma action plan and to learn about
ways to manage your triggers and symptoms.
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