An asthma action plan is a written plan that tells you how to treat your asthma on a daily basis. The plan also helps you deal with sudden increases in your or your child's asthma symptoms (asthma attacks). You need to treat the inflammation in your lungs to minimize the long-term effects of asthma. The plan tells you what medicine is needed every day, what steps to take for an asthma attack (based on its severity), and when you should call a doctor or seek emergency treatment.
You and your doctor make the asthma action plan. In general, the plan includes:
Your action plan is based on zones of asthma severity defined by symptoms and your personal best peak expiratory flow (PEF), which is your highest peak flow recorded over a 2- to 3-week period when your asthma is under control. Personal best is never measured during an asthma attack. If you do not know your personal best, talk to your doctor.
The best strategy for avoiding and treating asthma attacks is being able to recognize an attack and know what to do. Talk to your doctor about:
If you have no symptoms and your PEF is stable, you are in the green zone. Keep taking daily controller medicine if you have it. You do not need quick-relief treatment.
If your symptoms are mild or moderate (in the yellow zone), treat them at home using the medicines specified in your asthma action plan. You can expect some relief of your asthma symptoms. Seek medical help if the symptoms do not go away soon after you take the prescribed medicine or if the symptoms become worse.
If your symptoms are severe (in the red zone), seek medical help immediately. While you are seeking emergency help, follow your action plan and take your medicines as directed. You may need emergency room treatment or admission to the hospital. After a severe asthma attack, you may need a short treatment using corticosteroids by mouth to bring your symptoms under control.
You and your doctor will work together to create an asthma action plan. Your action plan tells you what medicine you need to take every day and what to do if you notice a change in your asthma symptoms or PEF. This helps you make quick decisions about treatment so that you can avoid more serious attacks and get better.
A review of research on asthma action plans reports that plans based on personal best peak expiratory flow and that recommended both the use of inhaled and pill-form corticosteroids to treat asthma attacks improved people's asthma health outcome.1
If you do not follow your action plan or do not use the medicines it specifies, you may have a worse or longer asthma attack. You may have to seek emergency care or go to the hospital.
It is important to treat asthma attacks quickly, especially in children. Babies and small children need to be watched closely during asthma attacks. And caregivers should seek medical help early during an attack. Your child's symptoms do not always indicate the severity of the attack. If your child does not improve soon after treatment for an attack, talk to your doctor.
Asthma attacks cannot be controlled by drinking large amounts of liquids or taking non-prescription medicines such as antihistamines or cold remedies. But if you have asthma, you can take antihistamines for other problems, such as colds. Antihistamines will not make your asthma symptoms worse.
Last Revised: February 13, 2011
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