Developing an Asthma Action Plan
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: November 2021 | Last updated: September 2023
An asthma action plan is a written sheet that shows you how to keep your asthma under control. It helps you track symptoms and lung function and tells you which medicines to use and when. It also explains how to recognize an asthma attack and when to seek emergency care.
Having an asthma action plan improves the chances you can manage your asthma well. But many people with asthma do not have a written plan. If you do not have one yet, talk to your doctor about creating one.
What is in an asthma action plan?
An asthma action plan has information to help you manage your asthma. Everyone with asthma has a slightly different experience. This means your asthma action plan will be specific to your needs. In general, each asthma action plan outlines:1,2
- Your asthma triggers and how to avoid those
- Your asthma medicines and when to take them
- What your peak flow readings mean
- How to recognize and treat an asthma attack
- When to make adjustments to your medicines
- When to seek emergency care
- Your emergency contact information, including your doctor and a local hospital
You will also use this plan to track your symptoms, how often you are using your inhalers and other medicines, and your peak flow numbers.
What are the zones of an asthma action plan?
Many asthma action plans have 3 zones like a traffic light: green, yellow, and red. You can tell what zone you are in based on your symptoms and peak expiratory flow numbers. Your asthma action plan will explain how to know what zone you are in. This can help you figure out if your asthma is under control, getting worse, or requires emergency attention.3,4
In the green zone, your asthma is under control. This is where you want to be on a daily basis. It means you have no asthma symptoms and are feeling well. Your peak expiratory flow measurements are between 80 and 100 percent of your personal best. Continue taking your long-term asthma medicines as normal.1
In the yellow zone, your asthma may be getting worse. You probably notice some symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. These symptoms may be waking you up at night or limiting your activities. Your peak expiratory flow measurements are between 50 and 80 percent of your personal best.1
Follow what your asthma action plan says to do. You may need to use your quick-relief medicine. You may also need to talk to your doctor about adjusting your current medicines or trying new ones.1
In the red zone, you are having severe asthma symptoms or a full asthma attack. It may be getting harder for you to breathe. Your symptoms could stop you from sleeping or going about normal activities. Your peak flow numbers are below 50 percent of your personal best.1
Follow what your asthma action plan says to do. You may need to use your quick-relief medicine. You may also need to go to the emergency room if the quick-relief medicine is not enough to improve your symptoms. Red zone readings are medical emergencies.1
Why should I have an asthma action plan?
A written asthma action plan that is specific to you makes it easier to monitor your asthma. It also tells you exactly what to do when symptoms get worse. Without this plan, you may not notice when symptoms get worse. Or you may not manage your asthma as well as you could.3
Asthma action plans also help guide you in better self-management. Some studies have shown that self-management makes it more likely that you will live well with asthma. Better asthma self-management is linked to:2,5
- Fewer visits to the emergency department
- Fewer doctor’s visits
- Fewer missed days of work or school
- Less waking up because of symptoms
- Higher quality of life
For these reasons, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that doctors give everyone with asthma an asthma action plan.2
Unfortunately, many people with asthma do not have written plans. If your doctor did not give you an action plan, ask for one. You can even print a blank asthma action plan from the NHLBI for your doctor to fill in.2
Keeping your asthma action plan up-to-date
Asthma changes over time so your asthma action plan will need to change too. Work with your doctor to keep your plan current. At each appointment you can:3
- Tell your doctor about any concerns or problems you have following the plan
- Double-check that you are using the plan correctly
- Review whether your plan is keeping your asthma under control
Keep your action plan handy in case you have an asthma attack. It is also good to share a copy of the plan with family, friends, school, and maybe even coworkers. If you take care of a child with asthma, make sure other caregivers, such as babysitters or daycare staff, also have a copy of the plan. If you are traveling, keep a copy of the plan with you.3