Coping with Asthma

Everyone’s asthma is different, and you are the expert on your own asthma. This fact makes you and your health care provider partners. Each of you has important information to share in order to come up with the best plan for treating your asthma. Your provider knows what tests and medications are available, and how they should be used. You know how your asthma makes you feel and how treatments affect you.

Asthma is a self-managed disease. Although your provider can prescribe medications and make recommendations, you carry out the plan every day. You need to make sure that the plan works for you and your family. If you know that you will have trouble taking a medication as recommended, ask about alternatives.

What do I need to know in order to manage my asthma?

If managing your asthma feels overwhelming, find people who can support you. You might be able to enlist the help of family members or friends. If that is not possible, talk with your provider about finding a social worker, counselor, respiratory therapist, or asthma educator who can help. If you have an opportunity to take an asthma education class, this can be a great way to learn about this condition and share ideas from other people about how they manage their asthma.

It may seem like there are many things to keep track of when you have asthma. Tools such as an Asthma Action Plan, asthma diary, and medication list may be helpful. Your provider should teach you how to use your inhaler or peak flow meter – and it is a good idea to ask for frequent refresher lessons!


You should know what medications you are taking. Be sure that you understand how to take them properly. Long-term control medications are taken daily, even if you feel good. Some are taken once a day, others are twice a day. Rescue medications are taken when your symptoms flare-up.

Tip: Keep an updated list of all the medications and supplements that you take for asthma and other conditions.


There are slightly different instructions for using every inhaler. Your health care provider, nurse, or respiratory therapist can show you how to use your inhaler correctly. You should also read the instructions that come with your inhaler.

Tip: Bring your inhaler to each appointment for a refresher lesson. Studies show that people start making mistakes with their inhaler less than two months after learning how to use it.1

Early signs and symptoms of an asthma attack

An important part of managing your asthma is being able to recognize when your symptoms are getting worse. Treatment for an asthma attack usually starts at home. By treating early, you might be able to prevent a severe attack.2 Your written Asthma Action Plan will tell you what medications to take, when to seek medical help, and who to call.

Tip: If your health care provider has not given you a written Asthma Action Plan, ask for one!

Asthma triggers

There are dozens of potential asthma triggers. Trying to avoid all of them would be very difficult and restrictive. It is worthwhile to try to figure out what exactly triggers your asthma, and focus on avoiding only those things.

Tip: Keeping an asthma diary may help you to find a pattern to your asthma symptoms. This can narrow down the list of triggers. Allergy testing may also be useful for some people.

Peak flow meter

You can monitor your lung function at home with your peak flow meter. Not everyone with asthma needs to use a peak flow meter. If your provider recommends it, he or she will teach you how to use the meter.

Tip: Your peak flow meter results can be used to create your Asthma Action Plan.

Keep a calendar

Keep your appointments with your health care provider. Follow-up appointments help you and your provider decide if your treatment is working or if changes are needed. Renew prescriptions and pick up refills before you run out of medicines. If you take your control medications regularly, your symptoms are less likely to flare up, your lung function improves, and the risk of complications is lower.2 It is important to always have your rescue medication on hand, for quick relief from asthma symptoms.

What can I do to stay healthy?

Eating a healthful diet and being active is important for everyone – including people with asthma. Although asthma cannot be treated with diet alone, there may be a link between eating a healthful diet and improvements in asthma.

There is no reason to scale back on being active because of asthma. With proper treatment before exercise and good asthma control, you should be able to participate fully in any activity you choose, including physical activity.2 Exercise is recommended for people with asthma because of the general health benefits.1 You can work with your health care provider or respiratory therapist to come up with an exercise plan.

Who can help me learn to manage my asthma?

You can learn about asthma from many different health professionals, including:

  • Doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner
  • Nurse
  • Pharmacist
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Social worker
  • Asthma educator

You might be able to take an asthma self-education class. Classes include education about asthma in general, as well as practical training on using your inhaler and tips for avoiding triggers.

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Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last Reviewed: May 2016.