I Have Asthma... So What is "Normal?"

A few years ago a friend with asthma called me to ask for a favor. His coworkers were concerned because they could hear him wheeze. He said, “I told them I have asthma, so it’s totally normal for me to wheeze all of the time. You are an expert; can you tell them my wheezing is normal?”

I hear this often. When I speak to people who have asthma they often say “I have asthma, so {insert any symptom you have regularly here} is normal.” My first job as an asthma educator is to determine what their current level of “normal” is, in other words, how often are they having symptoms.

We get used to having asthma symtpoms. Wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing become weekly or even daily occurrences. We take our quick-relief medicine and begin to limit our physical activity; taking the elevator instead of the stairs or staying inside to avoid outdoor allergens. We adapt. Before you know it, constant symptoms and life limitations becomes “normal.”

What exactly does normal look like for someone with asthma? We are all individuals and have our own personal “normal” based on many health and lifestyle factors.

However, the goals for asthma therapy are clear. Lung function that is as near to normal as possible, while being on the least amount of medication to keep our asthma well controlled, and the ability to participate in physical activity. So, how do we improve our “normal?” Develop a plan:

Step 1:  Decide you are ready to better manage your asthma – and believe in yourself! Recruit friends, family and loved ones that can provide encouragement and support.

Step 2: Set goals. Ask yourself, what would my life look like if I didn’t have asthma? Do you want to be able to take your dog for a long hike without needing your inhaler? Play soccer with your children or climb a flight of stairs without losing your breath? Maybe you want to climb Mount Everest or simply reduce the amount of medication you take. Your goals may be big, small, or a combination of both.

Step 3:  Talk to your doctor or health care provider. Share the goals you identified in step 2 and ask for an asthma action plan that will help you reach those goals. An asthma action plan will guide you to better self-management by teaching you how and when to use your medication, the correct way to respond to worsening symptoms and breathing emergencies.

Step 4:  Refer to your asthma action plan daily. Following your plan will empower you to take the steps needed to reduce or eliminate triggers, use medications correctly and ultimately improve your asthma control.

Step 5:  Schedule follow-up visits with your health care provider. Discuss the progress you’re making in reaching your goals, and adjust your management plan if needed. Be patient! The road to good asthma control is often paved by trial and error.

By following the above five steps you will be well on your way to managing your asthma and redefining your normal.

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