There are various ways a person with asthma can self-manage their condition and improve their quality of life. These include identifying asthma triggers and making an action plan for asthma attacks.
This article will explore these and other tips for living with asthma, such as advice for traveling and how to recognize an asthma emergency.
Asthma triggers are substances or situations that can cause a person to experience asthma symptoms. Each person with asthma has their own triggers.
According to the Respiratory Health Association, there are two main types. We explore these triggers and how to identify them in further detail below, as well as the warning signs that an asthma attack could be imminent.
Irritants are things that irritate a person’s airways. Common ones include:
- air pollution
- extremely hot or cold weather
- strong odors
Allergens are substances that can cause allergic reactions. Common allergens include:
- animals with feathers or fur, including rodents
- dust and dust mites
Learn more about allergies and their common causes.
Other possible asthma triggers can include:
- respiratory infections
- strong emotions that cause a change in breathing pattern
If a person can identify what causes their asthma symptoms, they can try to avoid these triggers. People trying to identify triggers can try taking note of when their symptoms occur.
These can include:
Flare warning signs
Early warning signs that can indicate that a person’s asthma is going to flare up can include:
- breathing changes
- throat clearing or itchiness
- trouble sleeping
- chin itchiness
There are different medications a healthcare professional can prescribe to treat asthma. People can inhale these or take them as pills.
The CDC note
As the name suggests, quick-relief medications work fast to treat the symptoms of an asthma attack.
Most people with asthma will receive a quick-relief asthma inhaler. The medications in them will depend on a person’s condition.
Examples of quick-relief medications
- inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists
- oral corticosteroids
- short-acting anticholinergics
It is best for a person to speak with a healthcare professional if they notice they need to use quick-relief medications frequently.
Long-term control medications help prevent asthma attacks and also reduce their severity when they occur. However, they cannot help during an asthma attack.
Examples of long-term control medications include:
- biologic medicines
- leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast (Singulair)
- inhaled mast cell stabilizers, such as cromolyn sodium
- inhaled long-acting bronchodilators
- allergy shots
A person can speak with their doctor about creating an asthma action plan. This can help people with the condition and those around them know what to do during an asthma attack.
The Respiratory Health Association suggests that an asthma action plan should include:
- appropriate use of medications
- actions to take if a person is showing signs of an asthma attack
- signs of an asthma attack
- when to seek emergency care
- emergency contact information
An asthma emergency may occur when people follow their asthma action plan but continue to have symptoms 10–15 minutes later.
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty talking, walking, or both
- wheezing, coughing, or chest tightness
- sucking in the skin by the ribs or neck
- the fingernails or lips becoming pale or turning blue
A person experiencing any of these symptoms will need to use their quick-relief medication and seek immediate medical attention.
It is best for a person who has asthma to see their doctor frequently. The doctor will check their symptoms and ensure they take their medication correctly.
According to the Allergy & Asthma Network, there are certain steps a person with asthma will need to take before traveling, including:
- talking with a healthcare professional to update treatment plans and medications
- refilling any required prescriptions
- researching local healthcare in their destination country or area
- becoming aware of cultural differences, such as smoking in indoor spaces, as well as possible local irritants and allergens
- learning how to say things such as “medication,” “allergy,” or “hard to breathe” in the location’s native language
- planning for time changes that could affect when to take regular medications
It notes that international travel can sometimes involve unexpected problems and may affect a person’s immune system in unanticipated ways. However, being as prepared as possible and having a backup plan if needed can help.
Asthma symptoms usually occur in children before the age of 5 years. It is the most common chronic childhood condition.
Symptoms in children are similar to those in adults. However, children may also experience:
- dark circles under the eyes
- trouble eating or sucking
Parents and caregivers of children with asthma will need to create an asthma action plan for them and can speak with a doctor about the best treatments.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, managed asthma poses no risk to a fetus during pregnancy.
However, asthma that a person has difficulty managing can lead to serious pregnancy complications, such as:
- high blood pressure
- premature delivery
- an increased risk of stillbirth
In rare cases, complications due to asthma can even be fatal.
Pregnancy can have the following effects on asthma:
- worsening of symptoms in people with severe asthma
- reduction of symptoms in people with mild asthma
- worsening of symptoms at 24–36 weeks
- reduction of symptoms within 3 months of delivery in people whose symptoms worsen during pregnancy
Pregnant people will need to speak with their doctor about using asthma medications that will not harm a fetus.
The following may be helpful for a person who has asthma:
- getting good quality sleep
- maintaining a moderate weight
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising daily
- not skipping checkups
- taking medications as a doctor prescribes them
- refilling medications before they run out
- staying up to date with vaccinations
- keeping windows and doors shut on days with high pollen counts and low air quality
- taking steps to manage stress and anxiety as much as possible
There are many ways a person with asthma can self-manage their condition, such as learning to identify early warning signs and triggers of flares, using medications, and getting regular checkups.
People can also take steps before traveling to ensure a safe trip, such as confirming they have enough medication with them.
Pregnant people with asthma will need to review their medications with a doctor to check they will not harm a fetus. Parents and caregivers of children with asthma can create an asthma action plan to help manage the condition.
If a person has any concerns or issues with managing asthma, it is best to speak with a doctor or other healthcare professional.