This page talks about asthma treatment and explains how you can manage your asthma symptoms. On another page, we give detailed information about asthma medications and how to take them.
There is no cure for asthma, but you can treat it and manage your symptoms. With proper asthma treatment, you should be almost symptom-free and enjoy an active life.
Asthma is a long-term disease – you have it all the time, even when you don't feel the symptoms. To stay healthy and safe, follow your asthma treatment every day, even on days when you feel fine.
Take these steps to manage your asthma:
- Work with doctor to get your asthma under control
- Follow your written asthma action plan
- Avoid your asthma triggers: smoke, cold air, etc.
- Avoid your asthma inducers: allergies, viruses, etc.
- Use your asthma medications as prescribed
- Know what to do in an asthma emergency (asthma attack)
For most people with asthma, it's possible to achieve good asthma control. If you have a lot of asthma attack or a lot of symptoms, your asthma is probably not as controlled as it could be. See you doctor, and ask for help getting control of your asthma.
Signs you have good asthma control
Your asthma is under control if:
- You have daytime asthma symptoms three times a week or less
- You don't miss school or work because of asthma symptoms
- Your asthma doesn’t get in the way of exercise and physical activity
- Symptoms disturb your sleep only one night a week, or not at all
- You need your rescue medicine (blue puffer) less than four times a week
Signs your asthma is not controlled
Your asthma is out of control if:
- You wake up at night because of coughing, wheezing or feeling short of breath more than once a week
- Your rescue medicine (blue puffer) doesn't work quickly or completely to relieve your asthma symptoms
- You are using your rescue medicine (blue puffer) more than three times a week
- Your asthma symptoms are stopping you from doing regular activities like exercise
If you have any of these signs of poor asthma control, see your doctor. Follow your doctor's advice.
Ask your doctor for a written asthma action plan that tells you how to manage your symptoms. If you don't have an asthma action plan, print one and ask your doctor to fill it in. Your doctor can explain what you should do if you are running into problems with your asthma. You can also ask a Certified Asthma Educator or Certified Respiratory Educator to explain how to use your asthma action plan to manage your asthma symptoms.
To take the guesswork out of managing your asthma, use an asthma action plan. Your asthma action plan tells you:
- What symptoms you should watch for
- What your symptoms mean
- How to adjust your medication according to your symptoms
- When to call the doctor or 911
Ask your doctor to fill out an asthma action plan for you. Make sure you understand what the plan says. If you have any questions, ask your doctor. You can also talk about your action plan with a Certified Asthma Educator or Certified Respiratory Educator, a healthcare professional with special training in asthma management.
Asthma diary card
This asthma diary card can help you keep track of your symptoms. Use the diary card to record your symptoms every day. You and your doctor or certified asthma educator can look at your diary card to see if there is a pattern to your asthma symptoms. For example, your diary card might show that they are certain days your symptoms are worse. You can ask yourself “What am I doing on the days I get worsening asthma symptoms?” It could be your asthma is worse on days you go to a smoky bar, or on days you mow the lawn. The diary card can help you see patterns in your symptoms and figure out the things that make your asthma worse- your triggers and inducers.
If your doctor has changed your medicine or dosage, it's also a good time to record your symptoms on a diary card. That way you can see if your symptoms get better after the change in your medication.
The best way to control your asthma is to avoid your asthma triggers. Asthma triggers are things that make your asthma symptoms worse by irritating your airways. Asthma triggers make the muscles around your airways squeeze tightly. This muscle tightening can make you wheeze, cough, and feel short of breath.
Asthma triggers cause symptoms that:
- Usually come on suddenly
- May not last very long
- May be easy to relieve with rescue medicine (blue puffer)
Each person has his own set of asthma triggers. Some common asthma triggers are fumes, smoke, and exercise. The table below gives more information on asthma triggers and how to avoid them.
Common asthma triggers, and how to avoid them
|Trigger||What you can do|
Exercise is a trigger for many people who don’t have good asthma control.
You might breathe cold air outdoors or at an ice rink.
Smog can happen anytime of the year, but it's most common from May to September.
Smog can trigger asthma symptoms right away. It can also trigger symptoms that you notice later on, even the next day
|Wood smoke: Smoke from fireplaces, grills, wood heaters and chimneas contains many harmful chemicals. Wood smoke can cause asthma symptoms right away and make asthma worse over time.
Exhaust fumes from cars and trucks can also trigger asthma symptoms and cause long-term damage to lungs. Read more about smog.
|If at all possible, do not heat your home with wood. If you must heat with wood, follow these tips to reduce wood smoke.
Avoid outdoor bonfires, chimineas, and other open burning.
|Hot, humid air||On very hot, humid days, especially days that are also smoggy, stay indoors in a clean air-conditioned place. (Make sure the place you choose has clean air – this means no tobacco smoke, no harsh fumes, etc.).|
Chemicals from perfume and cologne, fabric softener, air fresheners (and many other products) can make asthma worse.
|Avoid using perfumes, and ask the people you work with and live with to avoid them as well.
Make sure your soap, body lotion, shampoo, detergent, etc. are scent-free
Emotional upsets, anxiety
Feeling stressed, laughing or crying can all make asthma worse.
Feeling anxious about getting an asthma attack can also make your asthma worse.
A Certified Asthma Educator can help you understand your asthma, what to expect, and what to do if you feel symptoms coming on.
If you know what to do if you are having breathing problems, you can feel more in control and less anxious.
Smoking is unhealthy for everyone, but it’s especially bad for people with asthma.
If you have asthma and you smoke, your asthma symptoms will be much worse.
If you don’t smoke, that's great. Do not start smoking.
When people with asthma quit smoking, their lung function improves quickly. They can move more air in and out of their lungs. Their lung function can improve in as little as one week after quitting.1 If you have asthma and you quit smoking, you’ll notice benefits right away and in the long term.
Second-hand and third-hand smoke
Second-hand smoke (also called ETS) can come from cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, pipes and marijuana.
Third-hand smoke is the smoke that drifts into the air and gets trapped in hair, skin, fabric, carpet, furniture, walls and toys. It builds up over time. Each time someone smokes, more smoke gets trapped in the things around them. If you are in a room or car where people usually smoke, even if they aren't smoking right then, you are exposed to third-hand smoke. This means you are exposed to toxic chemicals like lead and arsenic
Other asthma triggers: Workplace triggers, food triggers
Some people have asthma triggers at work – things like smoke, fumes, or cold air. If your asthma is triggered by something at work, you have work-exacerbated asthma.
Most people's asthma triggers are inhaled (breathed in). But for some people, asthma symptoms can be triggered by things they eat, drink, or swallow. These are some other asthma triggers:
- sulphites, chemicals used to preserve some food, like dried fruit and red wine
- MSG (monosodium glutamate), a flavour enhancer use in food
Some people with asthma also have food allergies. People with any allergy that causes anaphylactic shock should keep their epinephrine kit (EpiPen©, EpiPen Jr.©, Twinject©) with them at all times.
Another great way to control your asthma is to avoid your asthma inducers. Asthma inducers are things that make your airways swollen, red, and filled with mucus. Each person with asthma has their own set of inducers. The inducers that affect one person may not affect another person.
Common asthma inducers include:
- viruses: viral infections like colds and flu
Asthma inducers give you symptoms that:
- may come on slowly
- may take a while to treat
- can be treated with asthma preventer medicines
Viral infections: colds, the flu, and other viruses
Viruses like the cold and flu can infect people's airways and lungs. Viral infections are a common cause of asthma symptoms. In children, cold and other viral infections are the number one cause of worsening asthma symptoms. Some viruses that can cause lung and airway infections are:
If you avoid catching viruses, you will have fewer asthma symptoms. Here are some ways to avoid viruses and prevent viral infections:
- Wash your hands properly and follow other germ-fighting tips
- Get the flu shot
- Ask your doctor if you should get the pneumonia shot
- It also helps to get enough sleep. If you you’re well rested, you may be less likely to have symptoms from a virus.
- If you have a viral infection like a cold or the flu, pay attention to your symptoms. If your symptoms are getting worse, follow the directions in your asthma action plan. Your action plan may tell you to take more of your asthma preventer medication when you have a virus
Many allergies can bring on asthma symptoms; you may be allergic to pets, pollen, mould, dust, or something else.
Some people have asthma inducers (including allergens) at their workplace. They may have asthma symptoms from working around lab animals, mould, dust, shellfish, or another allergen. If your asthma is caused by – or worsened by – something at your work, it's called work-related asthma. Read more about work-related asthma.
How do I know what my asthma triggers and inducers are?
To find out about your triggers and inducers, get allergy tests and pay attention to your symptoms. Skin prick testing, done by a specialist doctor called an allergist, can show what you're allergic to. Learning your other inducers and triggers may be a little more difficult. It helps if you pay attention to when and where your asthma gets worse. Is it when the air is cold? When you are near your neighbour's cat? Paying attention to your symptoms will give you clues about your triggers and inducers. Try using an asthma diary card to keep track of your symptoms and your surroundings. Show your asthma diary card to your doctor or certified asthma educator or certified respiratory educator for more help.
Asthma triggers and inducers can work in combination
Keep in mind, asthma triggers and inducers can work in combination. For example, if your airways are already swollen because you have a viral infection, and then you go into a smoky room, your airways are less able that usual to cope with the smoke. The inducer (the viral infection) and the trigger (the smoke) “gang up” to make your asthma worse.
Don't get rid of every possible asthma trigger and inducer – just the ones that set off YOUR asthma
Each person with asthma has their own set of triggers and inducers – things that make their asthma worse. Find out what makes your asthma worse, and stay away from those things. If your asthma gets worse when you're around dogs, stay away from dogs. If your asthma is worse when you mow the lawn, ask someone else to mow it. It's expensive and time-consuming to get rid of every possible asthma trigger and inducer around you – and it's not necessary. You don't have to get rid of every possible asthma trigger and inducer, just the ones that bother you.
To keep your asthma well-controlled and to prevent asthma attacks, it's very important to take your asthma medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Taking your medication regularly means you can avoid asthma emergencies.
Many people think they can skip their asthma preventer medications when they don't feel any symptoms – that's not true. Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease. If you have asthma, you have it all the time, even when you don't feel symptoms. You have to manage your asthma every day, not just on days when you feel symptoms. Follow your doctor's advice and take your asthma medication as prescribed.