Living With Asthma

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A diagnosis of asthma can trigger a lot of feelings. You may be scared of having an asthma attack or worried that your quality of life will never be the same again. Learning all you need to know to control your asthma may seem daunting and frustrating—and actually making the necessary changes can be even more so.

The good news is that, with the right strategies, you can control your asthma and lead an active, healthy life. With time, patience, and the right tools for success, managing your asthma effectively will become second nature.

This article will help provide those tools to cope with the emotional, physical, social, and practical challenges of asthma.

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Watch Now: Easy Tips for Reducing Asthma Triggers

Emotional

Whether it is you or your child who has asthma, you may feel anger, frustration, or sadness if asthma prevents you from doing things you'd like to do. This is natural, and you can expect to have these emotions from time to time. They can affect your family and friends as well.

It's important to keep in mind that stress can be a trigger for asthma attacks. Make a point to use stress-reduction strategies in your life, such as breathing exercises and meditation.

Research shows that Black and Latinx Americans experience increased levels of stress—due to factors such as racism, violence, and economic disparities—which can worsen asthma symptoms and lead to less effective treatment.

It's also important to focus on what you can do rather than what you can't do or what you must avoid. You might find that accomplishing small goals or checking off a to-do list gives you a sense of control and relieves feelings of helplessness.

Stay mindful of your emotional state. People with asthma may be more likely to develop anxiety or depression. If you begin to feel down or depressed, talk with your healthcare provider. Help is available.

Physical

The key to living with asthma successfully is to keep it under control. Limiting contact with asthma triggers in your environment and taking care of your overall health with diet and exercise can reduce your symptoms and make your treatments more effective

It really is a breath of fresh air
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Avoid Triggers

Changing your environment to eliminate your asthma triggers can be hard, but your efforts will be worth it. A first step is to stop smoking and protect yourself or your child from secondhand smoke in your home and in public places.

To reduce mold and dust mites, you might use a dehumidifier set to 50% or less humidity. Frequently washing bedding in hot water and putting impermeable covers on your pillows and mattress can also help control dust mite exposure. For these and other household triggers, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and consider eliminating carpeting in favor of hard floors.

Note that managing environmental triggers means addressing all sources of exposure—no single strategy is effective on its own, according to updated guidelines for asthma management issued by the National Institutes of Health in December 2020. For example, simply covering bedding isn't enough to protect against dust mites.

However, the guidelines also say you don't need to take measures to avoid a particular indoor allergen unless you or a family member has been tested and found to be sensitive to it.

If pollen is a trigger, you will need to be aware of pollen levels and avoid outdoor exposure on high pollen days. And, difficult as it may be, you may have to establish a pet-free household if pet dander is problematic for you.

Healthy Lifestyle

It is possible to be active and stay healthy when you're living with asthma. In fact, many medal-winning Olympic athletes have asthma. Exercise strengthens your respiratory muscles, helps maintain weight, decreases the risk of heart disease, and has psychological benefits.

Exercises that are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms include swimming, walking, hiking, and leisurely biking. Sports that involve short bursts of activity are also less likely to set off symptoms. Examples include softball, tennis, and sprinting.

You may have to pace yourself at times or make adjustments here or there, such as avoiding outdoor sports in the early morning, when pollen counts are at their highest (if pollen is one of your triggers).

Healthy eating can also help with asthma control. Enjoy more fruits and vegetables in your diet, limit animal products, and maintain a healthy weight. All these factors can reduce the inflammation that sets off asthma symptoms.

Social

Talking with other people who are also living with asthma can be helpful. You can probably find a local asthma support group if you live in a populated area. Online support groups are also available.

For one-on-one support, consider finding an asthma health coach. A health coach can guide you towards establishing good goals, improving your mindset, and focusing on your well-being as a whole—not just on your condition.

If your child has asthma, team up with their other caregivers, teachers, or coaches to help manage your child's condition. Make sure they have copies of your child's asthma action plan.

Practical

Asthma presents a number of day-to-day challenges that need to be overcome. The following steps can make it easier for you to stay on top of your symptoms.

Monitor Your Asthma

Simply checking and recording peak flows once per day could make a big difference in your asthma control. This is a measure of how well air is passing through your airways. A low number can indicate you may be headed toward an asthma attack.

Consider setting an alarm on your cell phone to remind you when to take your readings. It is also good to keep a diary so you can see what factors might be leading to poor control. You can do this with a simple notebook or use a mobile app designed for this purpose.

Learn to Use Medications Correctly

Find out all you can about your asthma medicine, including how and when to take it, potential side effects, and how it controls your asthma. If you use a metered-dose inhaler, learn how to use it properly.

Develop a strategy to take your medication regularly. It can be easy to forget to take your medicine, but an alarm or app can help you remember. Consider keeping a log of your medication use for a week. Did you miss a dose? Was something happening at that time that made taking your medication difficult or caused you to forget?

Talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting your routine if sticking to it is becoming an issue or you are experiencing side effects.

Be Prepared for Asthma Emergencies

Not having your rescue inhaler immediately available can be dangerous. Because you have no idea when you might need it, consider keeping a spare in your backpack, purse, desk, or any place that you spend a lot of time. (But avoid storing it in extreme heat.)

Put an ICE, or “in case of emergency,” contact in your cell phone. An ICE contact is a person who knows about your health conditions and can provide healthcare providers or first responders information when you are unable to. First responders are trained to look for these contacts in people's cell phones when they are evaluating patients.

Even people who take their asthma medicine exactly as prescribed and who work to avoid triggers can have the occasional asthma attack. It's essential to have an asthma action plan in place for those times.

This plan includes your triggers, peak flow indicators, and medications, and will help you know what to do based on your symptoms. Give the plan to someone close to you so that they know what to do in case you need help.

Summary

Managing your asthma does require that you make certain lifestyle changes and follow a treatment plan, but it doesn't have to take over your life. Stress-reduction techniques can help you deal with feelings of anxiety, depression, and frustration. Avoiding triggers such as dust mites and pollen can reduce your symptoms and improve your asthma control.

It's helpful to seek support from friends, family, and others who have asthma. Local and online support groups are available. Learning all you can about your condition—how to monitor it, take medications correctly, and be prepared for emergencies—will help you feel more confident and in control of your asthma.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can stress worsen asthma?

    Yes. Stress, anxiety, and depression have been linked to asthma in children and adults, as well as poor asthma control. Focusing on reducing stress with yoga and meditative breathwork can help keep stress-related asthma in check.

  • What is exercise-induced asthma?

    The term refers to shortness of breath that occurs during exercise, but it may not always be caused by underlying chronic asthma—which is why the preferred name for the condition is now exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asthma.