A patient and a doctor writing a plan together

My Asthma Action Plan Is... In My Head?

Last updated: January 2023

I was scrolling through some asthma topics recently and asthma action plans came up. An asthma action plan is just what it sounds like: instructions to follow when you are having a flare-up, and what to do when certain criteria are met.

Generally, you will hear about asthma action plans as written documents, and there are plenty of templates online to complete one--perhaps your doctor, clinic nurse, respiratory therapist, or asthma educator have given you one, or maybe you have printed one to take into one of these people to complete for you. A written plan is great, as it's clear and leaves... well, not little doubt, but less doubt what to do when your asthma gets worse.

Except, well, I just realized... My asthma action plan is in my head.

A written asthma action plan..?

I do not think I have ever actually had a "proper" written asthma action plan. Back in high school in 2008 or 2009, I took a template to my old family doctor. She charged me $25 to fill it out, and it really was not that useful, but that was likely more due to the confusion that was my asthma management at the time, and that she was not an asthma expert.

Since then, I have seen two respirologists (asthma specialists), two allergists, and a certified asthma educator (one time), and no one has mentioned a written asthma action plan ever, despite that we certainly have discussed the actions I take when my asthma gets worse.

Reviewing your asthma action plan

Getting a plan on paper

My asthma action plan lives in my head. This, for me, works totally fine, but I completely agree with having a written asthma action plan. There are a lot of steps to remember, a lot of "if x then y," to have this simply exist in your head. It's like trying to memorize a potentially really complex algorithm where the variables change on a potentially daily or hourly basis, especially if you are sick... because it is.

If, like me, your asthma care plan exists in your head, and you want to ensure you are on the right track, one strategy could be to find a template you like (adding ".pdf" without the quotes to your Google search may help!), complete it yourself, and take it to your next appointment to show your healthcare provider and tell them you'd like them to look it over to ensure you have everything correct.

By the way, I do not think any of my current doctors would charge me $25 to fill out an asthma action plan. But, if you've got the form mostly filled out and just need minor corrections or revisions, if you've got a doctor like the one I had, I presume they won't charge for that. At least one can hope!

Reasons for having a written plan

Planning for bad days when you feel well

Given the common phenomenon of feeling great on appointment days, presenting your doctor with an asthma action plan review might provide a stellar opportunity to review what to do on those not-so-good days!

Written asthma action plans may help you and your doctor

Now, some doctors just won't "get it," and this is not at all uncommon. Thinking through the reasons you want a written asthma action plan--and how it could benefit you and your care provider--may help if you need to do any convincing.

It is also helpful to use the asthma action plan to establish guidelines for when your doctor would like to see you. Is it when you need your rescue inhaler 3 or more times a day for 2 days? or 4 days? Is it before you start prednisone, or when you've been on prednisone for 72 hours and don't feel any better? Communicating how a written plan will make things clearer for both of you may help. Or, if your primary care provider is responsible for your asthma care, it may show you a reason to push for a referral to a specialist or asthma educator!

Do you have an asthma action plan--and is it on paper? How has it helped you manage your asthma differently?

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