Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with the American Lung Association. All opinions are my own. See our disclosure policy for more details.
5 Tips for Better Asthma Management + Asthma Resources
There has definitely been a lot of focus on lung health & respiratory issues with all that is going on in the world in the midst of COVID-19 since it is primarily a respiratory virus. The month of May is Asthma Awareness Month, a time dedicated to sharing more resources regarding asthma control,education to increase awareness of what asthma is and asthma management resources. And it really is such a good topic to share right now in the midst of this time when many people are more concerned about respiratory issues.
Did you know that over 24 million Americans live with asthma & 19 million of those people are adults?! I had no idea there were such a large number of people living with asthma. Both Sia & I have had quite a bit of experience with asthma & you can read her tips on how to allergy and asthma proof your home, which is so important when managing your asthma symptoms. Her son’s asthma was uncontrolled when he was little & spent days in the hospital with asthma attacks, so she learned quite a bit from his experiences.
My experience has come as an adult who was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 24. I always had allergies growing up, but my asthma did not start until I was a young adult. Not only was I diagnosed with asthma at that time, but 2 years later at the age of 26, I had lung surgery to remove a tumor in my lungs along with 2 lobes of my right lung. I have now been dealing with asthma & lung issues for over 18 years, but I am so thankful that my asthma & lung issues are well controlled and I am able to do a wide variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, snowshoeing, etc with very few (if any) asthma symptoms.
Many of you may have heard on Facebook & Instagram that I contracted COVID-19 in early to mid March as I was recovering from the flu. It’s the first time I’ve had any sort of respiratory illness in several years, but having the flu & then COVID-19 back to back made it more difficult. When you have asthma, you are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 and this was the case for me. It did cause significant breathing difficulties for me, so I did end up in the hospital for a few days to help get my breathing under control.
However, I truly feel that since my asthma has been managed so well over the years, that I was able to make a full recovery & I have not had any issues with my breathing or asthma issues since I’ve recovered. In fact, in order to gain back more energy, I have taken on a walking challenge of 30 Miles in 30 Days to focus on regular, consistent exercise after so little movement in March & April & it has been so good to be getting stronger & able to do more outdoor activities again.
Asthma is a lung disease & it can cause serious complications for both children & adults, but I am so thankful that there are so many ways that you can learn to manage your asthma effectively. By learning self management skills, you can learn to control your asthma so your asthma doesn’t control you or stop you from doing those life activities you enjoy!
I am sharing 5 tips for better asthma management as well as some resources from the American Lung Association to help you on your journey to living a full life with asthma.
5 Tips for Better Asthma Management
Learn Your Triggers
It is so important to learn what your personal triggers are which make your asthma worse, so you can try to avoid as many of those situations as possible & if you can’t avoid them, at least you will be prepared ahead of time & know how to react.
Here are some possible triggers for asthma to watch for:
- Dust & dust mites
- Pet dander
- Mold & mildew
- Smoking & secondhand smoke
- Wood smoke & fires
- Cleaning products with strong odors
- Products with a fragrance (such as air fresheners, personal care products)
In your workplace, these could be a bit different based on the type of job you have such as industrial or wood dust, chemical fumes, solvents, vehicle exhaust & more. The key is to identify what is causing your asthma symptoms you can then work on modifications or changes with your workplace if possible.
What I found most helpful that was suggested by my pulmonologist (lung specialist) was to visit an allergy specialist early in my asthma journey. I was then tested for a number of triggers to see what would trigger my allergies, which would then in turn trigger my asthma. Even if you don’t visit an allergist, though, keep a log of when you have found that your symptoms are worse, to see if you can pinpoint any triggers which are affecting your asthma.
Once you have figured out the triggers, you can find better ways to manage those situations & your asthma. Whether that means avoiding certain situations (like staying inside on a high pollen count day if pollen is a big allergy trigger) or moving to a different location if you will be around tobacco smoke, and more.
One of my triggers is cleaning supplies with strong odors so we have switched out all of our cleaning supplies in our house so we are only using natural cleaners for the most part as I am so allergic & my asthma flares up when I am around such strong cleaners for a long period of time.
Lastly – illness can definitely be a major trigger (it’s the main trigger for my asthma) so whatever steps you can take with your doctor & within your family to work on building a healthy immune system will absolutely help your asthma. Respiratory illnesses & even the common cold can be so much more difficult for asthma patients, so taking all the precautions around sick people as well as working to stay as healthy as possible (good sleep, exercise, reducing stress) are very important.
Always Be Prepared with an Action Plan
When you are diagnosed with asthma, you will quickly learn that it is critical to always be prepared with a plan in case your asthma flares up in a certain situation. Asthma can be so dangerous if it’s uncontrolled, but when you have an action plan (check out the American Lung Association’s Asthma Action Plan) in place, you can feel much more at ease with different situations that come up. It’s very important that everyone in your family is on the same page & is aware of what to do for you in case of an emergency.
For example, my asthma is very well managed but when we are out hiking, I may have more issues if we are at increased elevation especially with steep hills. So, I always keep a rescue inhaler in both our main backpack, along with our first aid kit, as well as another rescue inhaler in the car dash or middle console. It’s typically when I am away from home that I may be surprised with symptoms, so having one in the car & then also in my purse is critical for me & it makes me feel much more comfortable about being able to be so active & go up into the mountains & on different hikes.
Track Your Symptoms
If you are seeing your primary doctor or pulmonologist regularly, they will most likely ask you to keep a record of your symptoms. This helps your asthma management team to know how best to support you & have a baseline for you & them to compare to when your symptoms are under control versus when your asthma symptoms are getting worse. This way you can keep track at home & know quickly when your symptoms are worsening & when you need to address it immediately so it doesn’t worsen.
Here are some of the ways you can track your asthma symptoms:
Keep an asthma diary – this can be as simple as a little notebook on your nightstand or in your car or purse where you list out each day & if you had any asthma symptoms (cough, wheeze or chest tightness), problems with increased activity (exercising, working, etc), or any symptoms at night (wheeze, difficulty sleeping due to your asthma, etc). Or you can create your own spreadsheet or use an asthma tracker spreadsheet to keep track all on one page with dates & lists of symptoms to check off.
Use a Peak Flow Meter – Use a peak flow meter to track your air flow from your lungs. It is a simple, small portable device you can get from your doctor office or a local pharmacy to measure your ability to push air out of your lungs. The important thing is that you want to be measuring this regularly so you have a good baseline of what is normal for you when your asthma is under control & then when you are having more problems with your asthma, this can be a good indicator quickly that you need to talk with your provider about better measuring your asthma. My doctor will often ask for these measurements over the phone if I have put in a call to the nurse & he will ask for these measurements at the office too, to see if I have been tracking it & if I’ve noticed any pattern when it might be better or worse.
Exercise can definitely be a trigger for some people with asthma.Some people may even only have exercise-induced asthma. But that should definitely not stop you from getting regular exercise – in fact, exercise can absolutely be very beneficial when you have asthma. Not only is exercise so important for your overall health, but daily & consistent exercise can help improve your lung capacity (the amount of oxygen your body can use) & reduce inflammation, improving your lung health. Exercise also increases the blood flow to your lungs which then go to the heart & it pumps oxygen throughout your body.
If exercise does trigger your asthma, make sure to work with your doctor & other support professionals on ways you can effectively exercise on a consistent basis, so that your asthma is managed but find some exercise options that work best for you.
Also, making sure that you start with a warm-up before your main exercise, as well as a cool-down period are so important, especially for those with asthma. Staying out of the outdoors if the air is unhealthy (like with wildfires or air pollution) or if there is too much pollen in the air will also help so that you aren’t exposing yourself to any triggers that could make your asthma worse while you exercise
Regular Visits with your Doctor
Self care is one that many of us struggle with since we lead such busy lives & many times we get too busy to visit the doctor regularly, but if you are someone who has asthma, this is definitely something that is very important. One of the key reasons why it’s so important to visit your doctor regularly is to make sure your asthma medications & prescriptions are up to date. You don’t want to get into a situation where you are having more asthma symptoms & your prescription for your rescue inhaler or other asthma medications has run out (or close to running out) & then you can’t get in to see the doctor as quickly as you need to.
By visiting your doctor regularly, you can also learn if you are managing your asthma effectively, additionally your doctor will see if there are any minor changes that needs to be made to your treatment plan based on your how often you are experiencing symptoms and using your quick-relief inhaler.
It’s also very important to not delay seeing a doctor when you are sick. When you have asthma, respiratory illnesses can progress very quickly & bring on a full asthma attack. I have learned this lesson the hard way. Three years ago, I had a respiratory infection in the springtime, but it was May & the month of ALL the activities for my girls (school plays, end of year concerts, field trips, etc) so I kept putting off going to the doctor & tried to manage my illness at home. By the time I finally went to the doctor, I had to resort to an urgent care clinic because my breathing was so difficult. It then took almost 2 months to get my asthma fully under control again & find ways to manage it because I waited too long. My doctors impressed upon me the lesson that illnesses (colds, respiratory illnesses, etc) affect those with asthma much differently, so it’s so critical to get checked out quickly.
Resources for Asthma Management:
The American Lung Association has a number of resources to help you learn to manage your asthma. One of their programs is called the Breathe Well, Live Well Program – a self management education program for adults with asthma. Self management education programs will provide an opportunity for you to brush up on your asthma management skills such as:
- The Importance of Monitoring Asthma
- Avoiding Triggers
- Understanding your asthma medicines & using good technique when using them
- Managing asthma along with other chronic health conditions
- Following good health habits such as learning to deal with stress, exercise & avoiding tobacco smoke
- Working with your healthcare provider on modifying asthma treatment as necessary
Adults who have participated in the Breathe Well, Live Well program have been shown to have fewer asthma symptoms & as a result, fewer breathing problems from asthma. Some adults with asthma may become complacent with symptoms or blame increased age on breathing problems, not realizing that asthma could be holding them back from doing activities you want to do.
Self-management education with a program like Breathe Well, Live Well is a commitment. It takes several sessions with a qualified health professional to get through the content, but the results truly can be lifesaving.
Additionally, the Lung Association offers a free online course called Asthma Basics. This course is designed to help those with asthma better understand the disease. It is offered as a self-paced, online learning module or in-person workshop to help people learn more about asthma. This can apply to those with asthma, parents of children with asthma as well as friends & family to help them better understand what asthma is all about.
I found the What is Asthma? video very helpful as it clearly lays out what causes asthma & how it constricts the airways. It also shows diagrams showing the difference between a healthy airway and uncontrolled/untreated airways & the 3 changes that can happen to your airway during an asthma episode. It also provides information on ways to use your asthma medication devices in the proper ways with demonstration videos & more.
The program teaches participants to:
- Recognize & manage triggers
- Understand the value of an asthma action plan
- Recognize & respond to a breathing emergency