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Self-Managing Asthma: What You Should Know

In my latest adventure of Finding 9 Issues of the Now Extinct Journal of Asthma and Allergy Educators in my file boxes recently, I’m uncovering a lot of interesting material on what people with asthma should know, specifically with regard to self-management—which is all of the things we do, outside of a doctor’s office or clinic, to deal with our asthma. Should is italicized for a reason, which is that as patients, we cannot always be expected to simply know things—part of the reason we see health care professionals is to be educated. In the case of doctors, I personally think that our asthma self-management skills should be questioned on a regular basis, a little pop-quiz if you will, and if we’re rusty on a random area they select to ask us about, we should either be educated in-office, or sent to an asthma education professional for a refresher.

Instead, I think it’s sometimes assumed we’ll just go home and Google any new questions and go on with our lives. Google is great, with the right sources, but can only help so much: it can’t tell me if I’m taking my inhaler correctly, if I should try a different medicine, or if my peak flow technique sucks, or what to do, specifically, if I start flaring—or what could be triggering my asthma. Asthma is a spectrum, and an extremely diverse one at that—and, self-management has a lot of different components that will vary greatly from person to person. In addition to simply knowing what asthma is, there are a lot of things that we should know about our asthma—how do we stack up as patients?

The following list is what I, personally, interpreted from my reading of Teaching Patients the Critical Components of Asthma Self-Management to be the “critical components” 1—or, in other words, what’s in your asthma-skills toolbox?

  • Medication Behaviours 1
    Taking your long-term control medicines as prescribed
    Understanding why long-term control medicines are prescribed to be taken continuously
    Carrying your rescue inhaler all the time
    Understanding why it is important to carry your inhaler at all times
    Understanding how each medication you are on works (the basics!)
    Understanding how each different inhaler type you are prescribed is used properly (ex. technique for pressurized metered dose inhaler vs. dry powder)
    How to clean your inhalers, spacers and nebulizers
    Why it is important to clean your asthma stuff (answer: more effective delivery of meds because they don’t get stuck! Also germs.)
    Checking dose counters on inhalers, or alternate strategies for dose counting if your inhalers do not have a dose counter.
    Understanding over-dosing and under-dosing on meds, and why taking the right dose, the right times, the right way matters.
  • Monitoring Behaviours 1
    Check-ins should occur with a health care provider every 1 to 6 months.
    A written asthma action plan should exist for all patients (specifically with moderate or severe asthma, or a history of prolonged or difficult exacerbations) with instructions for increasing/decreasing medications. Asthma action plans can be either symptom or peak flow based (or a combination)
    Peak flow technique, if used, should be checked regularly to ensure accurate readings
    Understanding when and where to access care based on symptoms
  • Trigger Avoidance Behaviours 1
    Identify asthma triggers (accurately!), both allergic and non-allergic
    Strategize for management of triggers (ie. pre-medication for exercise, taking antihistamines for allergies, removal of carpets for dust allergy, etc.) or avoidance of triggers
    Strategies should be determined for each trigger that an individual experiences.

You’ll notice that many of these are dependent on your asthma care provider—whether that is an asthma educator, a primary care or family physician, or an asthma specialist (pulmonologist)—and how knowledgeable they are on asthma, and how engaged they are in your care… and ensuring you are an engaged team-member in your own self-management. for instance, I cannot simply run an allergy test on myself, or be 100% certain without a professional’s feedback that I am doing all of these things correctly… Despite my best intentions!

Do you believe all of these components ARE “critical components”? Do you think anything is missing? How does your knowledge of your own asthma match up—do you check off all, most, or only a few of the boxes? Sign in and let’s discuss in the comments, below!

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

  1. George & Stoloff, p. 10-19, SAGE, February 2012, 3(1) - Journal of Asthma and Allergy Educators