You can take an active role in controlling your asthma symptoms by working with your doctor, taking your medication regularly, and making the lifestyle changes that can reduce your risks. Follow these guidelines for more successful asthma management:
- Eat right, exercise, and get enough rest.
- Know your personal asthma triggers and learn how to avoid them.
- Watch for warning signs of asthma episodes and take steps promptly.
- Stay calm when symptoms occur, and don’t hesitate to seek help
If your medication does not seem to relieve your symptoms, seek medical care immediately. Make sure that your family, friends, and coworkers are aware that you have asthma, and show them how they can assist you if urgent help is needed. Be sure to keep emergency information and telephone numbers handy.
AVOIDING ASTHMA TRIGGERS
Although it’s not reasonable to think you can completely eliminate asthma triggers, removing as many as possible from your home and work surroundings can help you enjoy a healthier life with fewer asthma episodes.
In your home
While it may be impossible to remove every trigger from your home, there are many things you can do to give yourself “breathing room”:
- Air conditioning. Many airborne triggers can be captured in the filter of an air conditioning unit. If air conditioning every room is not an option for you, a single unit in your bedroom would probably be the best alternative. Be sure filters are changed regularly.
- Heating. If your home or apartment has forced-air heating, put a filter or a piece of cheesecloth over each vent to help trap airborne particles. Again, change these filters regularly.
- Dust control. Heavy drapes, upholstered furniture, thick rugs, and decorative items are major dust collectors. Try to choose furnishings that can be cleaned easily: vinyl or leather couches, washable lampshades, mini-blinds, and wood or vinyl flooring. Put your favorite decorations in glass-fronted cases or shadow boxes.
- Bedding. Choose pillows with Dacron, foam, or other synthetic fillings. Cover your mattress and box spring with allergen-proof covers, and use washable cotton or synthetic bedding. Wash bedding at least once a week in 130°F water, which is the “HOT” button on most washers. Avoid dust ruffles, which, as their name implies, tend to collect dust and dust mites.
- Prevent mold. Keep bathrooms clean and dry; use a fan or dehumidifier. Check foods regularly for spoilage. Dry freshly laundered clothes promptly. Remove houseplants, since moist potting soil is a haven for mold.
- Pets. Unfortunately, animal dander and saliva are potent allergens. Therefore, at least make your bedroom a “pet-free zone.”
- Pest control. Pests, particularly dust mites and cockroaches, can represent significant asthma triggers.
- Strong odors. Cigarette smoke and strong odors from perfumes, air fresheners, household cleaners, and other sources can be severely irritating. Limit smoking to the outdoors or to specific rooms, and avoid use of strong-smelling cleaners or cosmetics.
In your workplace
Help your coworkers and supervisors understand your asthma; they will be more willing to help control the triggers in your workplace. It may be possible to relocate your work area, or make other changes in your work environment.
- Minimize your exposure to smoke, heavy scents, and fumes.
- Air conditioners or air filtration systems can be helpful, if they are maintained regularly.
- Avoid potted plants, which can harbor mold.
- Take steps to manage tension and stress that can contribute to asthma episodes.
Foods and medications
- Many processed foods and drinks contain chemicals (sulfites) that are added as preservatives, but can trigger an asthma episode. The most common are dried fruits, fruit juices, vegetables, and wines.
- Cheese and other dairy products, citrus fruits, tomatoes, seafood, and corn are also foods that may initiate an asthma episode.
- Some medications, even the ones you buy over the counter, may also be asthma triggers. Aspirin and aspirinlike products may cause symptoms in people who have chronic sinus problems or nasal polyps. Beta-adrenergic blocking agents (used to treat migraine, rapid heart rate, congestive heart failure, tremor, and glaucoma) are also know to cause asthma episodes.
- Consult your doctor before you take any drug other than the ones already prescribed for you asthma. Ask about specific foods or drugs you should avoid. And be sure to notify your doctor if you experience any unusual reactions to foods or drugs.
HOW TO USE YOUR INHALER
A metered-dose inhaler (MDI) uses an aerosol canister to deliver asthma medication to your lungs. Newer, non-CFC-containing MDIs have been introduced and are available.
To enhance the ability of an MDI to effectively deliver medication to your lungs, a spacer is often used. This short tube, attached to the end of the MDI mouthpiece, holds the medication until you inhale. Spacers help minimize the coordination problems associated with the use of MDIs.
It may take a little practice to get used to using an inhaler. By following these steps, you will soon be comfortable – and will be confident that you are getting the most exact dose of medicine possible.
- Shake well: Before each dose, shake the inhaler gently but thoroughly.
- Remove cap: A flexible strap will keep the cap attached to the inhaler, even when the mouthpiece is exposed. If the cap becomes lost, be sure to inspect the mouthpiece for dust, lint, or other foreign objects before using the inhaler
- Breathe out: Stand up, or sit up straight. Breath out through your mouth. Place the mouthpiece of the inhaler in your mouth and close your lips around it tightly. (Be sure that your tongue does not block the opening of the mouthpiece.)
- Breathe in: Take a slow, deep breath through your mouth, while you press down firmly on the top of the metal canister with your finger.
- Hold your breath: Try to continue inhaling after the puff of medicine is delivered. Then try to hold your breath while you count to 10. Remove the mouthpiece and release your finger from the canister before breathing out.
- Wait 30 seconds: Most inhaled medications require 2 doses or “puffs.” Wait about 30 seconds after your first inhalation before you take the next one. Be sure to shake the inhaler between doses.
- Replace cap: Make sure the cap is firmly reattached to keep the mouthpiece clean.
- Clean inhaler: Remove the metal medication canister and clean the plastic inhaler and cap at least once a day. Rinse them with warm, running water, and dry both pieces thoroughly. Replace the medication canister with a gentle twist.
- Discard canister: Always discard the canister immediately after taking the number of doses specified in the product information included with your inhaler.
Inhalation powder delivery system
Inhalation powder delivery systems represent an important alternative to traditional MDIs. This new type of device is breath-activated, using your inspiratory breath (inhalation) to deliver medication to your lungs. This minimizes coordination problems many patients encounter when using traditional MDIs.
Breath-activated delivery technology is available in a variety of devices, each with its own specific instructions for use.
PEAK FLOW MONITORING
Peak expiratory flow (PEF) is a measurement of your ability to push air out of your lungs. You can use a simple device, called a peak flow meter, to monitor your own “lung power”
An important asthma management tool
By keeping a regular record of your peak flow results, you can help your doctor make important decisions about your medication and other elements of your treatment plan. Peak flow monitoring is important because it:
- Helps you decide when to seek emergency treatment
- Allows you to detect the early stages of bronchoconstriction, so you can take steps to remedy the problem.
- Gives you an accurate picture of how your condition changes over a 24 hour period; this enables your doctor to determine when medication should be taken.
- Helps you see the difference between bronchoconstriction and other causes of breathing difficulty, such as hyperventilation.
- Allows you to identify the allergens and other irritants and triggers that cause your asthma symptoms.
- Helps you communicate more effectively with your doctor so he or she can provide proper guidance
- Shows whether your asthma symptoms have stabilized, improved, or worsened.
Using a peak flow meter
Even young children can learn how to use a peak flow meter. Follow these easy steps:
- Place the indicator at the base of the numbered scale.
- Sit up straight, or stand up.
- Take a deep breath.
- Close your lips around the mouthpiece (but keep your tongue clear of the opening).
- Blow out as hard and as fast as you can.
- Write down the number that shows on the scale.
- Repeat these steps 2 more times.
- Write down the highest of the 3 numbers in your peak flow diary.
- Clean the peak flow meter after each use to keep it working accurately.
Every person will have a different “ideal” peak flow number. Your personal ideal number is the highest number that you can reach during a 2 week period when you’re well and are not experiencing any asthma symptoms. Here’s how to find yours:
- Take peak flow readings when you wake up and before you go to sleep.
- Take additional readings before and after you take your inhaled medication.
- Keep track of the results so you can discuss them with your doctor.
The 3-zone system
Red zone: Below 50% of your ideal number. This signals a medical alert. Immediately take your short-acting bronchodilator, and then contact your doctor.
Yellow zone: 50% to 80% of your ideal number. The signal for caution. You may be experiencing asthma symptoms that require an increase or change in medication. follow your asthma management plan, or call your doctor to find out how to get your asthma back under control.
Green zone: 80% to 100% of your ideal number. This signals all clear. Continue to take your medications as prescribed.
NOTE: Peak flows can vary widely from individual to individual and can also vary among different peak flow meters. If you have questions regarding your peak flow, consult your doctor.
Keeping track of your results
A daily peak flow diary is an important part of your total asthma management plan, because the information it provides helps you and your doctor. Once you have determined your personal ideal reading and the “zones” that apply, you’ll have a valuable tool for staying in control of your health.