4 Tips for Taking Charge of Your Asthma as an Adult

Asthma is often thought of as a child's disease. But the truth is, many adults also suffer from asthma. Some of us have had it since we were children. Others developed asthma once they reached their adult years. And still, others may have had it in childhood, then had it disappear, only to reappear after the age of 20.

The reasons why some children and adults develop asthma are not entirely clear. Allergies definitely seem to play a part in at least 30% of all adult-onset asthma cases, and probably even more so in children.1 But exposure to environmental irritants2 also appears to be a common factor in the development of asthma in adults. This can include substances such as:

  • Smoke, either firsthand or secondhand
  • Chemicals and fumes
  • Dust
  • Workplace materials

Other risk factors for adults include:

  • Being female, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations
  • Obesity
  • Certain respiratory infections, such as severe colds or the flu

Asthma in adults tends to be more persistent and often more severe than in children.3 Also, asthma is not always as easily recognized in adults. Asthma symptoms may be thought to be due just to being overweight, out of shape or a function of aging. Because of that, there can be delays in diagnosis and treatment.4 That can lead to even more severe health issues.

The good news is, adult-onset asthma can be successfully managed. Here are some tips to help you take charge of your asthma so that it doesn't take charge of your life.

1. Learn All You Can About Your Asthma

I love the saying, "Knowledge is power," when it comes to health because it is so true. When you take steps to increase your knowledge, understanding and awareness about your own body, including your asthma, you empower yourself to live your best life.

There are many ways to learn about asthma, but it's important to get your information from reliable sources. Your family member or a friend of a friend may not always be your best resource, even if they have asthma themselves. So use caution when basing your asthma knowledge on information from a layperson.

You'll find a wealth of information right here on Asthma.net about all aspects of the medical side of asthma, living with asthma and asthma research. There are other credible websites on asthma as well. The important thing is to evaluate the information you find on the Web carefully. Content written, or at least reviewed, by a health care professional, such as physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists, are your best bet. Personal asthma blogs may describe what it's like to live with asthma, but might not always have accurate medical information.

If you like the idea of taking a course on asthma, you might be interested in the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's "Asthma Care for Adults" self-paced online learning program. It consists of 7 lessons on different aspects of asthma and asthma management. Each lesson has short videos, slideshows and handouts that are easy to digest. And it's free. I checked out the course and it's really well done.

Other sources of information on asthma can be found in books in your local library or bookstore.

Don't stop learning either. Stay informed about new developments in asthma treatment. Don't be afraid to discuss new medications, research findings and treatment approaches with your doctor to decide if any of them might be useful in your care.

2. Follow Your Asthma Medication Regime

Most adults who have asthma will need to be on daily controller medication to prevent asthma symptoms and flares.5 It's important to take these medications exactly as directed by your physician. Controller medications are usually taken in the form of an inhaler, either once or twice a day. There are different types of inhalers, with slightly different techniques for using them. Be sure you understand how to use your inhaler so that you get the most out of your medication. Ask your doctor or another health care professional in the practice to check your technique if necessary.

Keep your doctor informed about any over the counter medicines you use, including allergy medicine. Never change your medication or how often you take it without checking with your doctor first. If your symptoms lessen or disappear, it's not because you've beaten asthma. Asthma doesn't go away once you have it as an adult. The reason you're feeling better is because of the medication. If you stop taking it or cut back on it, your symptoms will likely start to reappear and your asthma control will slip.

Keep on top of your prescriptions, so they don't run out. Some inhalers have counters, so you'll be able to tell when they're getting low. But if yours doesn't, then you'll need to track how many puffs you've used on a calendar.

You should also have a rescue, or quick-relief, inhaler that you can use if you begin to notice asthma symptoms even when you're taking your controller medicine as prescribed. But if you're using the rescue inhaler more than twice a week, your asthma is not under control and it's time to consult with your doctor.

If you're finding it hard to use your rescue inhaler, you might ask your doctor about nebulizer treatments that you can breathe in over 10-15 minutes.6

3. Use an Asthma Action Plan

Every adult with asthma should have a written Asthma Action Plan that you've developed with your health care team. This plan offers a step-by-step approach that walks you through what to do if your asthma symptoms worsen. This plan will contain information about your triggers, symptoms, medications, and instructions on exactly what to do, depending on where you are in your level of asthma control.

Every person's action plan will be unique, but there are standard forms available that you can use as a guideline.7

These action plans also help you to monitor your asthma control using peak flow measurements, as well as symptoms. Peak flow meters can detect changes even before symptoms are noticeable, but both methods are helpful. Using these measures, you'll be able to tell if you're in the green, yellow or red zone8:

  • Green: You're doing well, not having symptoms and able to perform your usual activities without difficulty
  • Yellow: You're having some symptoms, but are still managing your usual activities--rescue inhaler will be needed
  • Red: Symptoms are severe and interfering with daily life--emergency care is probably needed

Make sure you keep your Asthma Action Plan up to date and that it reflects what is going on with you and your life. Each time you visit your doctor, bring your plan and discuss whether it needs to be updated.

4. Stay in Touch With Your Health Care Team

Regular medical care is important when you have adult asthma, even if your symptoms are well-controlled. Most adult asthmatics need to visit their doctors at least once a year, even with good asthma control.9 If you do develop an illness, especially respiratory infections, it's always a good idea to talk with your doctor to find out how your asthma might be affected.

Be sure to report changes in your symptoms or other aspects of your health promptly. You are your best health advocate!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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