Living With Asthma

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If you pay attention to the details of successful asthma management, you (or your child) can lead an active, healthy life. Learning all you need to know to achieve optimal control of asthma may seem daunting. What's more, actually making the necessary changes can seem even more so and have an impact on your mental well-being. With time, patience, and the right tools for success, however, managing asthma effectively will become second nature.

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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. Commit to including stress-reduction strategies in your life, such as breathing exercises and meditation. While asthma is certainly not a welcome thing, you can learn how cope with the negatives that come with it in as positive a way as possible.

Focusing on what you (or your child) can do rather than what you can't do or what you must avoid can help. 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 doctor. Help is available.

Physical

The key to living with asthma successfully is to keep it under control. Limit contact with asthma triggers in your environment, monitor your condition with a peak flow meter, and follow your treatment plan strictly.

It really is a breath of fresh air
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Reducing 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.

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

When managing environmental triggers, note that a single mitigation strategy will not be sufficient, according to updated guidelines for asthma management issued by the National Institutes of Health in December 2020. For example, simply encasing bedding will not be sufficient to protect against dust mites. The guidelines also do not advise taking mitigation measures unless you or a family member has been tested and found to be sensitive to a particular indoor allergen.

If pollen is a trigger, you will need to be aware of pollen levels and avoid outdoor exposure on high pollen days. While it can be a challenge to live without the company of pets, you may have to establish a pet-free household if pet dander is problematic.

Exercise

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 have short bursts of activity are also less likely to set off symptoms. Examples include baseball, football, and sprinting.

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

The National Institutes of Health notes that heart-healthy eating may help you with asthma control. Enjoy more fruits and vegetables in your diet and get enough vitamin D.

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, or use an online option.

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 you as a whole—not just on your condition.

If your child has asthma, team up with your child's 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. Take steps to make it easier for you to commit to these goals.

Monitor Your Asthma

Simply checking and recording peak flows once per day could make a big difference in your asthma control. A low number can indicate you may be headed toward an asthma attack.

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

Medication Management

Learn how to use your 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; an alarm or app can help with this too. 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 not top-of-mind?

Talk to your doctor about adjusting your routine if compliance 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 (avoid storing yours in extreme heat, however).

Put an ICE contact in your cell phone. An ICE, or “in case of emergency,” contact is a person that knows about your health conditions and can provide doctors 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 will include symptoms to look for, actions to take, danger signs, avoiding triggers, medication instructions, and when to call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

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.

What is an asthma action plan?

If you’re diagnosed with asthma, you’ll work with your doctor to develop a plan of action for times when your asthma acts up. 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.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cloutier MM, Baptist AP, Blake KV, et al. 2020 focused updates to the asthma management guidelines: A report from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program coordinating committee expert panel working group. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2020;146(6):1217-1270. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2020.10.003

  2. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Strong emotions, stress and depression can trigger asthma. Updated August 2018.

  3. Barnthouse M, Jones BL. The impact of environmental chronic and toxic stress on asthma. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2019 Dec;57(3):427-438. doi:10.1007/s12016-019-08736-x

  4. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

Additional Reading
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asthma.