Asthma Self-Management Skills: Why Do I Need to Learn Them?
Do you have asthma symptoms throughout the day or wake up at night because of your asthma? Does shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing or wheezing keep you from doing the things you want to do, such as, walking, climbing stairs, completing daily chores? You are not alone! Millions of Americans struggle to manage their asthma symptoms. Visits to the emergency room, being hospitalized, using a quick relief medicine more than twice a week are just a few indicators that your asthma is not well controlled. Uncontrolled asthma can have serious consequences. By improving your asthma knowledge and working with your healthcare team, you can take control and improve your symptoms so that you can live a full and active life.
Education plays a key role in making this happen. The American Lung Association offers asthma programs to help you learn asthma self-management skills, including the adult-focused asthma self-management program, Breathe Well, Live Well, and two pediatric programs, Open Airways for Schools and Kickin’ Asthma. Here are four questions and answers to help you better understand asthma self-management.
What is asthma self-management?
Asthma self-management refers to the things you can do for yourself to keep your asthma in control, have fewer asthma symptoms and enjoy life. The best medicines and best healthcare providers in the world can only do so much to help you manage your asthma if you are not also doing your part. For this reason, self-management is essential. There are seven key goals of asthma self-management education:
- Understanding asthma and breathing.
- Knowing your asthma symptoms and keeping track of them.
- Improving communication skills with healthcare providers.
- Learning about asthma medicines and taking them correctly.
- Making changes in your life to prevent asthma problems.
- Following good health habits like quitting smoking, managing stress, and exercising to stay active.
- Knowing what to do when you have symptoms by following your asthma action plan
What are the benefits of participating in an asthma self-management program?
Completing an asthma self-management education program can improve your knowledge about your specific asthma. It can also help you feel more confident in monitoring your symptoms, working with your healthcare providers, and in using your asthma medicines correctly. These programs can improve your ability to identify and avoid or reduce exposure to your asthma triggers. All of this together can result in fewer symptoms, asthma flare-ups, visits to the emergency room, or missing school or work.
Adults that have completed the Lung Association’s asthma self-management program, Breathe Well, Live Well, reported they felt more confident in managing their asthma, taking their medicines properly, and communicating with their healthcare provider about their asthma. Children who participated in Open Airways for Schools or Kickin’ Asthma, were able to better identify triggers that caused their asthma symptoms and which ones would require a visit to a doctor.
What skills will I learn?
Asthma self-management education programs should cover the basics about asthma, describe how it affects the body, provide tools to help people identify, monitor and reduce their symptoms, and how to take their medicines properly. Participants also develop problem-solving skills for when asthma symptoms worsen and how to improve lifestyle changes such as stress management, exercise, and tobacco product use. Through these programs, participants develop self-advocacy and communication skills for working with their healthcare providers.
Adults that participated in Breathe Well, Live Well reported improvement in their overall health and quality of life. The top two asthma self-management skills that they learned and felt more confident in doing were:
- Being able to talk to others about what they need to do to control their asthma; and
- Understanding and using their asthma medicines to control their asthma.
What other programs or resources can I use to better control my asthma?
An important step in self-management is to understand more about this life-long (chronic) lung disease. The Lung Association’s self-paced, online program is called Asthma Basics, and is ideal for anyone who wants to learn more about asthma including people with asthma, or anyone caring for someone with asthma.
Monitoring asthma symptoms and flare-ups are an important self-management skill. If you have ongoing symptoms or asthma flare-ups, your asthma medicines may not be working well, or you could not be taking them correctly. This is an important topic to discuss at every office visit. You can check your asthma control before your visit by using a quick online tool from the Lung Association called “My Asthma Control Assessment”. To use this tool, answer seven short questions to determine your overall asthma control. Bring the downloadable summary as a guide to talk with your healthcare provider about asthma treatment options and how to improve control.
If you are struggling with asthma symptoms or managing triggers at work or home, be sure to mention those challenges at the visit. Part of asthma self-management is learning how to ask questions (or self-advocate) and the best way to do that is to prepare for your office visits. Do you need a resource to help get the conversation started? Download the Getting Ready For Your Next Office Visit worksheet. Fill it out and use it as a tool to help frame the discussion with your healthcare provider. Then, talk to your healthcare provider about which self-management education program is right for you.
In addition, if you feel like your asthma medicines are not working, speak up and let your doctor know. Are you having trouble remembering to take your medicine? Are you having trouble with your technique? Are you have trouble affording your medicines? A resource that may help with the discussion is the Severe Asthma Treatment Decision-Making Worksheet. Use this tool to help you and your provider identify any issues with your current treatment plan and tailor one that will meet your needs.
Asthma is a lung disease that makes breathing difficult for more than 24 million Americans. While there is no cure, proper management can help people living with asthma lead an active, healthy life. Make a goal to participate in an asthma self-management education program to learn skills and make the lifestyle changes that will improve your health.
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