Asthma symptoms can be difficult to manage. You might have multiple medications to take, based on your symptoms' severity. You might not quite understand how your asthma flare-ups are triggered, or whether they're getting better or worse. You might not know what to do if a severe asthma attack hits. An asthma action plan - also called an asthma management plan - can help address all these concerns.
Understand your asthma management needs
Preventing asthma attacks is a daily job. But that doesn't mean it has to get in the way of your daily life. Being organized in how you track your medications and your symptoms can make this disease easier to live with. This starts with developing an asthma action plan.
The first step in this effort is to write information on your asthma's severity and triggers down on paper. What medication you take and when to take it should also be included in this document. (The American Lung Association has an example you can download and use yourself.) To help organize the medication information, many doctors recommend a green-yellow-red approach:
- Green zone. When you're in the green zone, you're doing well. Your breathing is easy even when you're active. If you're using a peak flow meter, the readings are 80% of your personal best or higher. In this section of your plan, write down the control medications you take daily. Include the dosage, and when and how you take it. Also note any medications, such as albuterol, you might take before being active. Include dosage and whether you take it before all activity or only when you need it.
- Yellow zone. The yellow zone section outlines what to do when you're having some trouble breathing, and peak flow meter readings are between 50-79% of your personal best. This section includes information on what quick-relief medication you should take and whether you need to change your control medication.
- Red zone. In the red zone, asthma symptoms are getting worse. This includes not feeling better after following your yellow zone instructions or remaining in the yellow zone for more than 24 hours. Peak flow meter readings less than 50% of your personal best also put you in the red zone. Again, include instructions for emergency quick-relief medicine dosages here. You should call your doctor right away - and call 911 - if symptoms don't improve within 15 minutes of taking that medication.
Keep your asthma action plan up to date
Asthma can change over time, so it's important to keep your asthma management plan current. Tracking when asthma symptoms occur is one way to do this. Keeping a log of what symptoms you have and when you have them can help identify previously unknown triggers. For example, you might see clues of allergies you didn't know you had.
Additional steps to ensure your plan is up-to-date include:
- Keep your medical appointments. Bring your plan and your symptoms log with you to review. This will help your doctor know if your medications are working or need adjustment.
- Don't "tough it out." If your plan isn't keeping your asthma under control, see your doctor. This is a sign that your treatment needs a change.
- Check your medications. Choose a day each month to check your medications' expiration dates. Replace any that are about to expire so you'll know they'll work when you need them.