Asthma Management FAQ

What’s the first thing to do when symptoms begin?

The moment you first notice symptoms, use your prescribed quick-relief bronchodilator (such as albuterol or levalbuterol). This medication will relax the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe within a few short minutes. Use your bronchodilator at the first sign of symptoms or before exercise to prevent symptoms from getting out of control.

What are signs that asthma symptoms are worsening?

  • Symptoms don’t respond as indicated in your Asthma Action Plan.

  • It feels like you can’t catch a good deep breath or can’t get the air out of your chest.

  • You can’t talk except in short phrases.

  • You have a cough that will not stop or you simply feel too exhausted to breathe.

  • Your shoulders tense and raise closer to your ears than normal.

  • It’s easier to breathe while sitting and leaning forward than when lying down.

  • Your fingernails turn blue, or your lips become bluish or gray in color.

  • You start sweating even though your skin feels clammy and cold.

  • The skin around your chest, ribs and collarbones sinks in with each breath and you’re using stomach muscles to help you breathe.

  • You experience swelling of your throat, tongue or limbs.

Any of these signs indicate the need for immediate medical treatment; follow your Asthma Action Plan. Call 911 if you’re not sure.

How do I prevent symptoms from coming back?

Once the obvious symptoms of an asthma flare end, think about what happened in the moments, hours or days leading up to the episode. Look for clues as to what may have started the symptoms.

A daily symptom diary like Allergy & Asthma Network’s AsthmaTracker® can help you track how well your symptoms respond to steps in your written Asthma Action Plan. By writing down your symptoms, medication use, and peak expiratory flow rate (the reading from your peak flow meter) each day, you’ll notice a pattern to your symptoms. Use a daily symptom diary for at least 3 months (12 months is best) to find patterns that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. With each discovery, you’ll see a new opportunity to stop the symptoms before they can stop you. 

When you find out what sets off your symptoms, do your best to avoid them. This may require a change in lifestyle, such as avoiding all exposure to cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke; keeping pets out of the bedroom or removing them from the home; and placing dust-mite-proof encasings on your pillows and mattress. It may mean changing your furnace filters more often or removing moldy carpeting and fixing the water leak that caused it.

However, you may not be able to avoid every circumstance likely to result in asthma symptoms, such as going outside when pollen counts are high. That’s why asthma medications are a necessary part of your Asthma Action Plan. In addition, allergy shots or immunotherapy can teach your immune system to respond less strongly to allergens such as animal dander, dust mites, molds and pollens. If you have allergic asthma, controlling allergies will help control your asthma.

How do I reduce the need for medications?

Over time, you will learn about your asthma and what makes your symptoms worse. As a result, you’ll find many ways to reduce your need for asthma medications.

Find things in your home, work or school that bring on your symptoms and try your best to avoid contact with them wherever possible.

Learn about your treatment options and how to use your medications correctly. Different medications treat different parts of asthma. Find out from your medical care team exactly what each does in your body and when you’re supposed to use it. Some of these medications are used daily while others are used only when you’re having symptoms.

Treat asthma symptoms at the very first hint that they’re present. The longer asthma symptoms are allowed to continue, the more likely you will need to take even more medications to get things back to normal.

Take good care of yourself – eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep.