Asthma in Adults: Care Instructions

Lungs in chest showing bronchial tubes, with detail of healthy airway and airway narrowed by asthma

Overview

Asthma makes it hard for you to breathe. During an asthma attack, the airways swell and narrow. Severe asthma attacks can be dangerous, but you can usually prevent them. Controlling asthma and treating symptoms before they get bad can help you avoid bad attacks. You may also avoid future trips to the doctor.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Follow your asthma action plan so you can manage your symptoms at home. An asthma action plan will help you prevent and control airway reactions and will tell you what to do during an asthma attack. If you do not have an asthma action plan, work with your doctor to build one.
  • Take your asthma medicine exactly as prescribed. Medicine plays an important role in controlling asthma. Talk to your doctor right away if you have any questions about what to take and how to take it.
    • Use your quick-relief medicine when you have symptoms of an asthma attack. Some people need to use quick-relief medicine before they exercise to prevent asthma symptoms. Albuterol is a quick-relief medicine that is often used. In some cases, a certain type of controller inhaler is used as a quick-relief medicine. Ask your doctor what to use for quick relief.
    • Take your controller medicine. If you have symptoms often, you will likely need to take it every day. Controller medicine usually includes an inhaled corticosteroid. The goal is to prevent problems before they occur.
    • If your doctor prescribed corticosteroid pills to use during an attack, take them as directed. They may take hours to work, but they may shorten the attack and help you breathe better.
    • Keep your quick-relief medicine with you at all times.
  • Talk to your doctor before using other medicines. Some medicines, such as aspirin, can cause asthma attacks in some people.
  • Check yourself for asthma symptoms to know which step to follow in your action plan. Watch for things like being short of breath, having chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing. Also notice if symptoms wake you up at night or if you get tired quickly when you exercise.
  • If you have a peak flow meter, use it to check how well you are breathing. This can help you predict when an asthma attack is going to occur. Then you can take medicine to prevent the asthma attack or make it less severe.
  • See your doctor regularly. These visits will help you learn more about asthma and what you can do to control it. Your doctor will monitor your treatment to make sure the medicine is helping you.
  • Keep track of your asthma attacks and your treatment. After you have had an attack, write down what triggered it, what helped end it, and any concerns you have about your asthma action plan. Take your diary when you see your doctor. You can then review your asthma action plan and decide if it is working.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. Avoid smoky places. Smoking makes asthma worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Learn what triggers an asthma attack for you, and avoid the triggers when you can. Common triggers include colds, smoke, air pollution, dust, pollen, mold, pets, cockroaches, stress, and cold air.
  • Avoid colds and the flu. Talk to your doctor about getting a pneumococcal vaccine shot. If you have had one before, ask your doctor whether you need a second dose. Get a flu vaccine every fall. If you must be around people with colds or the flu, wash your hands often.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your symptoms do not get better after you have followed your asthma action plan.
  • You cough up yellow, dark brown, or bloody mucus (sputum).

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your coughing and wheezing get worse.
  • You need to use quick-relief medicine on more than 2 days a week within a month (unless it is just for exercise).
  • You need help figuring out what is triggering your asthma attacks.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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