person looking back and forth between doctor's office and park

Knowing When To See The Doctor

Spring always seems to bring on changes in my symptoms. All those environmental triggers are out in full force. While I am happy to ditch winter boots and puffy coats, I am not so excited about embracing spring triggers. It also seems that many people that I work with or am in contact with have a cold. I am not sure if it was the winter that has felt never-ending or just one of those things. This had me thinking about identifying when changes in symptoms are more than, “just” changes in symptoms. When do you know when it is time to see the doctor for your asthma?

The asthma gray area

As asthma is variable, it is important to be on top of changes in symptoms. This is especially important if you have noticed a sudden onset of worsening symptoms, changes in your rescue medication usage, and even feeling generally off. It is worth connecting with your care team for evaluation.

This had me thinking about the hard and fast rules about connecting. With your care team or knowing when to contact your doctor. In general, we have quantitative measurements for assessing this by using spirometry or peak flow meters and asthma action plans. Even with these guidelines, have you ever felt unsure if it was time to call your doctor.

I know sometimes when I monitored, I am not sure if I "believed" the numbers, was I truly feeling this way? Would my doctor believe me? One of the ways that I battle this, was being armed with my data as well as having conversations upfront with my doctor to determine when it is time to be seen and what the procedures for asthma emergencies are in their practice.

What warrants an emergency?

In general, asthma emergencies need immediate care. The American Lung Association suggests seeing a physician right away if you are experiencing any of these:1

  • Feeling, faint, dizzy or weak.
  • You have trouble doing a routine activity, such as cooking dinner, cleaning or taking out the trash.
  • You have a cough that won’t go away.
  • You’re wheezing when you breathe in or out, especially if this different from your usual breathing pattern.
  • Your wheezing gets worse even after you have given your medicine time to start working (most quick-relief medicine work within 15 minutes).

Everyones threshold is different

I was once treated in practice where I needed to come in immediately even if I had even slight changes. I was then managed in a practice that used different criteria, where there was data that needed to be tracked and then a call with an RT or nurse. I have even had the false positive, a common cold that was mostly viral that I thought was exacerbating my asthma but it turned out to just be viral.

What are your thresholds? What parameters have you determined with your care team? Do you use other indicators to tell you when you need to see your asthma doctor? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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