Asthma is a highly prevalent, long-standing condition affecting about 8.4% of Canadians and carries a substantial burden on the health care system and individuals. While there is a decline in asthma-related mortality, research now shows that these events are entirely avoidable.
The numbers also suggest that uncontrolled asthma is becoming increasingly prevalent in Canada. But the good news is that self-management and medication plan outlined in recent asthma guidelines can help address the majority of the uncontrolled asthma cases.
You can manage your asthma and avoid an attack by following an asthma care plan advised by your doctor and avoiding things that trigger an attack. An asthma care plan is a guide that helps you and your doctor to monitor your asthma and decide what treatment option may help in various situations. If you feel that your asthma is becoming severe or you are getting frequent attacks, you can discuss how an asthma care plan and various treatment options can help you.
Table of Contents
Asthma Risk Factors
Before understanding the asthma action plan, it is vital to understand the risk factors for asthma.
Some factors that may increase the risk of asthma are:
- History of viral respiratory illness
- A family history of asthma
- Air pollution
- Exposure to occupational pollutants such as dust, vapors, fumes, or vapors
Asthma Care Plan
An asthma care plan is a series of steps you can take when your asthma gets out of control.
Asthma is a variable disease, and it changes over a period of time. This means your symptoms may change. Besides, allergies, stress, respiratory infections, or pollution can temporarily worsen asthma. While these changes are expected, an asthma plan ensures that you take control of the symptoms.
This plan’s primary aim is to recognize the early signs and take appropriate steps to prevent it from worsening.
It helps you to
- Know when to reduce or increase your medications to control asthma
- Manage asthma
- Understand when you should seek emergency help
An effective action plan involves regular tracking of your symptoms and measuring your lung functions. Being proactive in managing asthma will help prevent asthma attacks, maintain asthma control, and avoid long-term problems and complications. So, create a written asthma care plan with your doctor. This will serve as a guide to managing asthma under specific situations.
The action plan involves the following three steps:
Track Your Symptoms
Maintain your asthma symptoms in your diary. This will help you to recognize when you need treatment adjustments according to the plan.
Record the following symptoms in your diary:
- Disturbed sleep caused by coughing, shortness of breath, or wheezing
- Whistling sounds while exhaling or shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Asthma symptoms while you exercise
- Symptoms of hay fever such as runny nose and sneezing
- Change in phlegm color
- Triggers that flare-up asthma symptoms
- Disruption of your day-to-day activities due to asthma symptoms
You can also record when you need to use a quick-relief inhaler and the number of puffs required.
Record Your Lung Function
Your physician may also advise you to record your breathing tests regularly. If the lung functions are not normal, that means your asthma is not under control.
The two main lung function tests are:
- Spirometry: This is usually done at your doctor’s office. Many patients also use a hand-held spirometer to measure lung functions at home. Spirometry tests measure how much air your lungs can hold and exhale in one second after you take a deep breath.
- Peak flow: This test is usually done at home with a hand-held device known as a peak flow meter. It helps to measure how fast you can force air out of your lungs.
Adjusting Treatment Plan
If your lungs are not working as well as they should be, you may have to adjust your treatment according to the asthma action plan.
The mentioned chart will help you understand whether your asthma is under control or no (Table 1). Based on your asthma control, you can adjust your treatment plan (Image 1).
Table 1: Levels of Asthma Control
|Green Zone or Well-Controlled||Yellow Zone or Poorly Controlled||Red Zone or Very Poorly Controlled|
|Asthma symptoms||Two days a week or fewer||More than two days a week||Daily and throughout the night|
|Effect on daily activities||None||Some limits||Extremely limiting|
|Lung test readings||More than 80% of your predicted personal best||60 to 80% of your predicted personal best||Less than 60% of your predicted personal best|
|Nighttime awakenings||Two times a month or fewer||One to three times a week||Four times a week or more|
|Quick-relief inhaler use to control symptoms||Two days a week or fewer||More than two days a week||Several times a day|
There are two main types of medications to manage asthma:
- Long-term medications: Long-term control medications, such as corticosteroids, are crucial to manage asthma and keep it under control. They prevent airway inflammation that results in asthma symptoms. When used regularly, they can prevent or even eliminate asthma flare-ups.
- Quick-relief medications: They are also known as rescue inhalers. They quickly expand your airways and make breathing easier. Knowing when to use them, according to the asthma action plan, helps in preventing an asthma attack.
Using long-term medications will help you in keeping asthma in the green zone. But if you need to use quick-relief medications often, your asthma is not under control, and you can discuss with your doctor to make treatment changes.
Image 1: Sample of Asthma Action Plan
Source: Asthma Canada
Exercise worsens asthma symptoms for many individuals, but this should not stop you from doing physical activity. It is possible for people with asthma to workout with ease and comfort.
In fact, regular exercise can reduce your asthma symptoms by improving lung health. The key here is to do the right exercise in the right amount. You can discuss this with your doctor and start exercising accordingly.
Regular exercises improve asthma as they:
- Reduce inflammation
- Strengthen airway muscles
- Increase endurance
- Improve lung capacity
The following exercises can help people with asthma:
- Recreational biking
- Short-distance track
- Sports such as baseball, golf, and football
If you notice that your symptoms increase after you exercise and you cannot endure, it is better to consult your doctor. Generally, you can take the following precautions while exercising to prevent worsening of your condition:
- Use inhaler before starting to exercise
- Warm-up and cool down
- Wear a scarf or mask if it is cold outside
- Avoid sports with continuous activity such as soccer and basketball
While a diet will not help treat asthma, it will help avoid flare-ups and prevent it from worsening. If you have asthma, the following changes in your diet may be beneficial.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight as being overweight worsens asthma.
- Consume loads of vegetables and fruits as they help in reducing lung swelling and inflammation.
- Avoid foods that trigger an asthma attack.
- Take vitamin D supplements regularly.
- Avoid foods rich in sulfites, such as wine, pickles, dried fruits, and frozen shrimps.
You can take your physician’s help to know more about resources that offer to support individuals with asthma.
You can read more about asthma facts here.
Yoga for Asthma
Here are some breathing techniques to gain control of your breath and thus manage asthma:
Pursed Lip Breathing
This exercise allows more oxygen to enter your lungs, slows down breathing rate, and thus relieves shortness of breath. To carry out this breathing exercise:
- Sit in a chair with your shoulders and neck relaxed.
- Now, inhale slowly through the nose to the count of two.
- Keep your lip pursed as if blowing out a candle.
- Now, exhale slowly through your lips to the count of four.
Repeat these steps until your breathing returns to normal.
In asthma, your body has to put extra effort to breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces this effort by strengthening your abdominal muscles, opening the airways, and improving your heart and lung functioning. It thus aids in relieving asthma symptoms.
To carry out this breathing exercise:
- Lie down in a bed or sit in a chair
- Now, place one hand on your belly so that you can feel the air movements.
- Inhale slowly through the nose. While doing so, you should feel your stomach moving out, like filling the air in a balloon.
- Now, exhale through pursed lips, twice or thrice longer than your inhale. You can feel your stomach moving in as the air flows out.
Just note that your chest should stay still while doing diaphragmatic breathing. To ensure this, you can place your other hand on the chest.
While this type of exercise is traditionally not a part of yoga practice, Buteyko breathing is exceptionally beneficial in improving asthma symptoms, especially wheezing and coughing.
To carry out this breathing exercise:
- Inhale a small breath and hold it for three to five seconds. You can repeat this several times.
- Now, exhale air through your nose.
- Pinch your nose with your thumb and pointer finger. Hold your breath for three to five seconds.
- Breath for 10 seconds
You can repeat this if your symptoms continue. However, in case your symptoms do not improve within 10 minutes, or they get severe, use your rescue inhaler.
Some other yoga poses that are beneficial for people with asthma are:
- Cobra pose
- Bridge pose
- Seated spinal twist
- Pranayama breathing
Monitor your symptoms when you start practicing yoga exercises. If you find that they are worsening your condition, consult your doctor for the same. Besides, it is a great idea to do these yoga poses under the supervision of a specialist, especially if you are doing it for the first time.
Asthma is a long-standing condition that makes it difficult for you to breathe. While the prevalence of uncontrolled asthma is increasing in Canada, curating an action plan with your doctor’s help and following it aids in managing your condition.
Besides, asthma symptoms may vary, and following your action plan will help you avoid flare-ups and asthma complications.
Being proactive in managing asthma will also improve your quality of life. Meet your doctor regularly so that they can review your treatment. Also, carry your asthma diary and action plan to the doctor’s office so that you can review it with your doctor and make the required changes to your treatment plan.