Asthma can be a hard condition to manage. Sometimes, your efforts to treat it don’t work. You may end up back in the doctor’s office or emergency room. If this sounds like you, try not to be discouraged. Below are common questions you may ask yourself. Review the answers and talk to your doctor to help you get back on track.
Is it really asthma?
Other illnesses can act like asthma. If your treatments aren’t working, maybe you don’t have asthma. Your doctor may want to do other exams or tests to confirm.
Is it something in my environment?
Some people who have asthma are allergic to things in their environment that can trigger their asthma. This could be at home, work, or school. Try to remove or avoid the thing(s) you are allergic to. This can help your asthma medicine work better.
Common triggers of an asthma attack are:
- dust mites
- pet dander
- tobacco smoke
- certain pollutants
- cold, dry air
- viral infection, such as a cold
Your doctor can do skin or blood tests to figure out what causes your asthma. Avoid these triggers to relieve your asthma symptoms and help your lungs work better. It might even reduce the amount of medicine you have to take. Talk with your doctor about ways to remove triggers from your environment.
Is it something in my workplace?
Some adults who have asthma are sensitive to something in their workplace. You might suspect this if your asthma flares up when you’re at work. Or if some of your coworkers also have asthma symptoms. Another clue is if your asthma is fine on weekends or vacations. Your doctor can help determine what triggers your symptoms. When you find out what that is, you should remove or try to avoid it.
Is it because I’m not using my inhaler the right way?
It is important to use an inhaler correctly or you might not get enough medicine into your lungs. You can use a simple device called a spacer with your inhaler to help medicine get deeper into your lungs. Your doctor can prescribe one and show you how to use it the right way.
Is it because I’m not taking my medicine the right way?
In order for your medicine to work, you must follow your doctor’s instructions. Many people who have asthma don’t follow their doctor’s orders. Taking your medicine as prescribed will help prevent trips to the hospital and even asthma death.
Do I need to change medicines?
Medicines are available to help treat your asthma symptoms. Most people who have asthma need at least two types of medicine. A preventive (“controller”) medicine keeps your lungs from becoming inflamed. A quick-relief (“rescue”) medicine helps your symptoms if the first one doesn’t work. If the medicines you take now don’t seem to be helping, others may work better. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) might help if your asthma is related to allergies.
Path to improved health
Use a peak flow meter regularly and keep a log of results. The meter is a plastic tube that you blow into several times a day. It checks how well your lungs are working. The results tell you when you need to take extra medicine or call your doctor.
It’s also important to stay in good overall health. Maintain a good weight and eat a balanced diet. Get regular exercise, if you can. If you smoke, you should quit in order to help your asthma. You also should avoid secondhand smoke.
Things to consider
A lot of people who have asthma don’t know enough about their condition or how bad it is. Learn as much as you can from your doctor and other medical resources. Talk to them about all of your asthma questions and concerns. You should know what type of asthma you have. It may be related to allergies, exercise, or your workplace.
You also should know how to manage your asthma. Learn how to recognize if your asthma is getting worse. Signs include symptoms at night, a drop in your peak flow, or the need to use your rescue medicine more often. Talk to your doctor if you think your asthma is getting worse.
Be aware of the warning signs of an asthma attack, which include:
- coughing or wheezing
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
- peak flow 50% to 80% of your personal best.
Go to the nearest emergency room if your peak flow drops below 50% or your symptoms don’t respond to medicine.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Will I ever grow out of asthma, or will I always have it?
- What is the best way to manage my asthma?
- How can I avoid asthma attacks?
- What should I do in an emergency?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.