Talking With Your Doctor About Asthma Treatment

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When you talk to your doctor about asthma, you are talking about asthma control. That’s because there is no cure for asthma. Even when you feel fine, your asthma symptoms could flare up. But with the right treatment plan, you should be able to keep asthma in check and maintain an active life. Here's what you need to do:

Discuss Your Asthma Triggers

Preventing an asthma flare is a big part of your treatment plan. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and what causes them. Once you both know what triggers your asthma symptoms, together you can devise a plan to avoid or control them.

For example, if your asthma is triggered by:

  • Allergies, you can have allergy testing to identify your allergens. Once you know your allergy triggers, you can avoid them, limit your exposure, or get allergy treatment.
  • Cigarette smoke, you can stop smoking and ask people to not smoke around you.
  • Exercise, your doctor can prescribe medication to take before exercise so you can stay active.

Tell your doctor about any conditions that make your asthma worse. These may include frequent colds and other upper respiratory infections, stress, loud snoring at night, and heartburn.

Learn About Long-term Control

Ask about a long-term control medicine that you would take every day. This drug prevents your airways from becoming inflamed. Inflammation makes your airways swollen and sensitive. When your airways are inflamed, the muscles around them tighten up, and mucus builds up inside them. That’s what causes asthma symptoms.

Long-term control medication is usually a corticosteroid that you take daily through an inhaler. Talk to your doctor about how to take this medication, how it works, and what side effects to watch for.

Also ask about using a peak flow meter. This hand-held device measures how well air travels out of your lungs. Your doctor will teach you how to use it and how to keep track of the numbers it gives you.

Learn what your peak flow number is when your asthma is well-controlled. This is called your personal best number. By checking your peak flow meter on a regular basis, you and your doctor can adjust your treatments. Your number can also warn you if you are having an asthma attack.

Ask How to Manage an Asthma Attack

You can still have an asthma attack even with the best asthma control plan. Symptoms can include trouble breathing, tightness in your chest, wheezing, and coughing. When you get these symptoms, you need a quick-relief medication. In most cases, this will be a rescue inhaler with a medication called a beta-agonist.

Your rescue inhaler works by relaxing the muscles around your airways so they can open up and air can flow more easily. You may need to use this inhaler before exercise, if exercise is one of your triggers. You should keep this medicine with you at all times. Ask your doctor how to take it when your symptoms flare.

Create an Asthma Action Plan

All these discussions with your doctor should become part of your asthma action plan, a written summary of how to manage your asthma. It should include lists of your triggers, medication, and emergency contact information. Your plan can be divided into three zones:

  • Green Zone: This is where you want to be every day. In this zone, you are not having symptoms. Your peak flow numbers are good. You can continue with your long-term control medicine.
  • Yellow Zone: This is when you start having symptoms. You and your doctor should work out a peak flow number that tells you that you’re in this zone. This number may warn you before you have symptoms. Follow instructions for how to use your rescue inhaler.
  • Red Zone: This is when you may need emergency care. Your action plan should spell out red zone symptoms and peak flow numbers. Follow your action plan for when and how to seek emergency care.

Let your doctor know if you need to use your rescue inhaler more than twice a week. Keep a record of your symptoms and your peak flow numbers so you can review them during your doctor visits. Your action plan may need to change with time.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 29
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