Although there isn’t a cure for asthma, managing your symptoms makes it possible to lead a normal, active life. Reducing your risk of having an asthma attack is the first priority of managing asthma. But, a good management strategy can also lower the chances that you’ll need your reliever inhaler, wake up in the middle of the night, or experience disruptions to school, work, exercise, and other activities.
One recent review of 27 studies found that looking after your asthma can reduce hospitalisations and A&E visits and generally improve your quality of life.
How to manage asthma
There are lots of ways you can help yourself manage your asthma.
1. Perfect your inhaler technique
Whether it’s using your preventer, reliever or combination inhaler, good technique makes all the difference. Proper inhalation makes sure the medicine travels deep into your lungs where it’s most effective.
It can be tricky to nail the perfect technique. In fact, studies show that most people with asthma don’t use their inhalers correctly. If you’re in doubt, ask a doctor, asthma nurse or pharmacist and they’ll be happy to double check your technique.
2. Look after your inhaler
Giving your inhaler some regular TLC is vital to getting the most benefit from it. Read your patient information leaflet to find out the best way to clean, store and use your inhaler, since it can vary between different kinds of inhalers. Here are some general inhaler care tips:
- Store your inhaler somewhere cool and dry
- Avoid keeping your inhaler in a damp bathroom cabinet or on a sunny windowsill
- Pop the cap back onto your inhaler right away after you use it to protect it from dust and debris
- Check the use-by-date of your inhaler. Once it’s expired, you can dispose of it at a local pharmacy
- If you use a spacer then wash it in warm soapy water. Do not wipe dry, air dry is fine, as this creates static and the medicine will stick to the plastic rather than going into your lungs
3. Build an asthma action plan
An asthma action plan is a document that your healthcare team can help you build. It should cover everything you need to know about monitoring and treating your symptoms, including:
- Your triggers
- The medications you take to prevent symptoms and reduce your risk of an asthma attack
- What to do if you experience symptoms of flare-ups or an asthma attack
- When to get immediate emergency help or go to A&E
Your plan can change over time. To keep it up-to-date, take it along to all your asthma appointments, including visits to A&E or out-of-hours appointments.
If you don’t yet have an asthma action plan, speak to a doctor or asthma nurse. They can help you put it together and save a copy to your notes.
4. Use your preventer inhaler even when you don’t have symptoms
Using your preventer inhaler every day can reduce your risk of asthma symptoms. It helps prevent inflammation and swelling building up in your airways. This means you’re less likely to react to your asthma triggers.
So even if you’re feeling well, it’s important to take your preventer inhaler as prescribed. You should notice:
- Fewer asthma symptoms
- You don’t need to use your reliever inhaler as much
- You sleep better during the night
- You find exercise easier
If you still have symptoms while using a preventer inhaler, speak to a doctor or asthma nurse.
5. Always carry your reliever inhaler with you
Reliever inhalers are one of the quickest ways to improve and relieve your asthma symptoms. They work by relaxing the muscles in your airways so you can breathe more easily. Wherever you go, your reliever inhaler should go so that your symptoms don’t catch you off guard. It can be useful to keep one in your bag or at your office or school so that you always have one with you.
Speak to a doctor or asthma nurse if you’re using your reliever inhaler more than 3 times a week. This can be a sign your asthma isn’t well controlled.
6. Pinpoint your triggers
Asthma flare-ups and attacks are usually sparked by 1 or more triggers. Some common triggers include:
- Cold weather
- Certain medications, like ibuprofen
Identifying your triggers and avoiding them are a key part of managing your asthma. To figure out what triggers your asthma, pay close attention to your symptoms and keep a log. Whenever you get a symptom, jot it down along with where you are and what you’re doing. This will help you spot patterns. Not all triggers are in your control, but try limiting your exposure to things like pet fur, dust mites and pollen when you can.
7. Get regular check-ups
It’s important to schedule and keep all your check-up appointments with a doctor or asthma nurse. These appointments can be once or twice a year, or sometimes more frequently, depending on how well controlled your asthma is.
At these appointments, you may:
- Talk about the severity and frequency of your asthma symptoms
- Look at how treatment is working – for instance, if your asthma is well controlled, your doctor may recommend continuing or decreasing your medication
- Update your asthma action plan
- Check your inhaler technique
8. Live a healthy lifestyle
Evidence suggests that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help manage asthma symptoms. There are several ways you can help yourself, including:
- Regular physical activity can improve lung function, as well as general health. If your asthma is well managed, exercise shouldn’t trigger your symptoms
- Stopping smoking can improve symptoms and lung function
- Adopt a healthy diet. Research suggests that a high consumption of fruits and vegetables can make asthma symptoms more manageable.
When should I speak to a doctor about my asthma?
If your asthma symptoms are getting worse or you’re having regular asthma attacks, make an appointment to speak to a doctor. They can also provide support or advice on managing your asthma.
If you’re having difficulty breathing, go to A&E immediately.
This article has been medically approved by Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi.