General Guidelines for Managing Asthma

Making some lifestyle changes can help you avoid triggers that may cause an asthma attack.

Because there are many types of allergens that may trigger asthma, it is nearly impossible to completely remove all allergens from your environment. However, there are many things that you can do to help reduce allergens and your exposure to asthma triggers.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers these suggestions:

  • Take these steps to control dust mites:
    • Wash bedding once a week in hot water. Water must be hotter than 130 degrees F (60 degrees C) to kill dust mites.
    • Cover mattresses and pillows in dust-proof, zippered covers.
    • Avoid cloth-covered cushions.
    • If your pillow does not have a dust proof cover, wash your pillow each week in hot water.
    • Reduce indoor humidity below 60%. Dehumidifiers and central air conditioners can help.
    • If possible, remove carpets from your bedroom.
    • If stuffed toys are in the house, keep them off your bed. Wash stuffed toys weekly in hot water.
  • Take these steps if you are allergic to pets:
    • If possible, keep pets out of your home.
    • Keep pets out of the bedroom and other sleeping areas at all times, and keep the door closed.
    • Keep pets away from fabric-covered furniture, carpets, and stuffed toys. If possible, remove carpet from your home.
  • Take these steps to control cockroaches and mice in your home:
    • Do not leave out food. Store food in airtight containers.
    • Make sure trash in your home is properly stored in containers with lids that close securely. Remove trash daily.
    • Try using poison baits, boric acid, or traps before using pesticide sprays.
    • Do not stay in a room that has recently been sprayed with a pesticide. Wait until the odor has cleared before going back to the room.
  • Take these steps to control mold:
    • Fix plumbing leaks and other moisture problems.
    • Use a bleach cleaner to wash mold off hard surfaces. Let the surface dry completely.
  • Take these steps to avoid irritants:
    • Avoid using strong-smelling products, like perfume, paint, or powders.
    • Avoid wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or kerosene heaters.
    • If you smoke, quit. Avoid being around people who smoke. Do not allow smoking in your home or car.
    • Ask someone to vacuum for you. Stay out of the room after it is vacuumed. If you vacuum:
      • Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter or microfilter bag.
      • Wear a dust mask.
  • Take these steps to control asthma due to allergies to pollen and outdoor mold:
    • Try to keep windows closed during allergy season.
    • Pollen and some mold counts can be highest in late morning to afternoon. Stay indoors and keep windows closed during this time when possible.
    • Talk to your doctor about changes to your medication routine before allergy season starts.

Other strategies for controlling allergens include:

  • Avoid exercise or any physical exertion when air pollution levels are high.
  • Talk to your doctor about immunotherapy for allergens that are most persistent.
  • Avoid aspirin and other over-the-counter pain relievers if you have a known sensitivity to these drugs.

Be sure your doctor knows the details of what you do at work. Do not overlook the effect of work, hobbies, and recreation as causes of asthma symptoms.

When you or your child has warning signs that an asthma attack may occur, begin treatment as recommended by your physician.

Warning signs include:

  • Increased shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • An increased need to use bronchodilators
  • Fitful sleep patterns
  • Frequent coughing or coughing spasms, especially at night
  • Worsening peak expiratory flow if you use a device that measures your expiratory flow

Weather changes may worsen asthma symptoms, especially in children. If the humidity increases or the temperature changes, pay close attention to your child's symptoms.

Although not all asthma attacks can be prevented, early treatment can significantly reduce the severity of the symptoms. Take all the necessary precautions to prevent asthma attacks, and treat symptoms as early as possible to avoid having a serious attack.

Consider using an online program to manage your symptoms. These programs can help to improve the control of your asthma and your lungs' function. Organizations like the American Lung Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offer information on web-based asthma management tools and support groups.

Your doctor may recommend that you limit strenuous physical activity after an asthma attack. In general, asthma should not limit your participation or success in physical activities. Consider the following when exercising:

  • Make sure you have good asthma control before exercising.
  • If exercise triggers your asthma, ask your doctor about using a short-acting beta-agonist about 15 minutes before exercise.
  • Try warming-up for at least 10 minutes before exercise. The warm up may include walking or other low-intensity activities.
  • Avoid other triggers such as high pollution levels, pollen season, freshly cut grass, or cold. If cold is a trigger, wear a scarf or mask to warm the air before it hits your lungs.
  • Consider changing the length or intensity of exercise if mild symptoms persist.
  • With any new activity, gradually increase your intensity.

You are at a higher risk for flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, because you have asthma. Adults and children older than six months old should get a yearly flu shot.

Stay in contact with your doctor between visits, especially if your symptoms are changing. Whether you stay in contact over the phone, through email, or through your doctor's website, good communication can help you stay out of the hospital and have better control of your asthma.

If you are having a mild to moderate asthma attack and your medication does not work in the time it is supposed to, call your doctor. If you are having a severe asthma attack, take your asthma medication and get emergency medical help right away.