Monitoring asthma symptoms

Monitoring your asthma symptoms will help you keep your asthma under control. You and your doctor can develop an asthma action planthat gives you personalized instructions on how to monitor your asthma and what to do if it gets worse.

  • Your symptoms, including how often your asthma symptoms occur, how severe they are, and whether they interrupt your sleep or daily activities.
  • How you are using your medications, including how you use your inhaler device, how often you need reliever medication (which may come as a separate inhaler or together with your controller medication in a single inhaler), and whether you are experiencing any side effects
  • Your peak expiratory flow (PEF). You can use a device called a peak flow meter to measure how quickly you can force air out of your lungs. A peak flow meter is a small, portable plastic device that helps you keep track of whether your asthma is under control - the closer your peak flow is to your "personal best" (the highest peak flow result you've had in the last 2 to 3 weeks), the better your asthma control. Measuring your peak flow can give you an early warning of asthma attacks even before asthma symptoms occur. Usually, you'll need to measure your peak flow each morning and evening and more often when you have asthma symptoms or attacks.

Talk to your doctor about getting a personal asthma action plan. Your asthma action plan will explain what to do when your asthma gets worse (i.e., your symptoms increase or your peak flow goes down). Find out why you need an asthma action plan and get an action plan you and your doctor can fill out together.

Sometimes, asthma symptoms can reach the point where emergency treatment is needed. Your asthma action plan will give you instructions on when to seek emergency medical treatment and what to do until help arrives.

You may need emergency medical attention if:

  • you are having trouble walking or talking because you are short of breath
  • your lips or fingernails are blue
  • you have experienced any of the following for at least 15 minutes:
    • you feel short of breath and your reliever medication isn't helping
    • you cannot do your regular activities because you are short of breath
    • you feel very short of breath

If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, call 9-1-1 or go to an emergency department right away. The emergency doctor or paramedics will go through a series of steps to treat your asthma attack, including oxygen and medications (beta agonists and anticholinergics) by mask, and oral or intravenous corticosteroids.

After you have recovered, your doctor may recommend that you take an oral corticosteroid for 7 to 14 days (for adults) to help reduce the inflammation in your airways. (This time period may be 3 to 5 days for children.) The doctor will also review your medications, your environment, and your asthma action plan to reduce your risk of future asthma emergencies.

Be sure you know what to do in an asthma emergency and make sure it's included in your asthma action plan.

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