Manage your asthma effectively by avoiding triggers and following your personalised, daily asthma plan.

“Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs,” says Dr Nivesh Sewlall, a specialist physician at Mediclinic Morningside. “Viral infections, cold air, allergens, exercise, and smoke aggravate your airways, causing them to close. This brings on an asthma attack, complete with coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.”

People living with asthma need to avoid asthma triggers and follow a personalised asthma action plan from their doctor. “Taking control of your condition gives you more freedom and confidence to do the things you want,” Dr Sewlall says.

Your asthma action plan

If you have asthma, your doctor will have devised a personalised asthma action plan to help you manage the condition. According to Dr Sewlall, this plan normally includes:

• Your asthma triggers – factors that make your asthma worse.

• Details of the medicines you take to treat your asthma.

• Peak flow measurement that indicates worsening asthma – you measure this using a apeak flow meter – an inexpensive, handheld device that measures your ability to push air out of your lungs.

• Appropriate medicines to take depending on symptoms or peak flow measurements.

• Symptoms that indicate a medical emergency.

• Telephone numbers for an emergency contact, your healthcare provider, and your closest Emergency Centre (EC).

Asthma triggers

It’s important to identify and avoid any triggers that may bring on an asthma attack. These can include cold air, smoke, pets, pollen, dust, and mould. If smoke is an asthma trigger, go outside or move to a well-ventilated area away from the source of smoke. If cold weather is an asthma trigger, ensure you wrap up warmly when outside.

Asthma medicines

As Dr Sewlall explains, asthma treatment is planned according to the severity of the condition’s classification. In some cases this requires both preventative and rescue (acute) therapy. The rescue therapy works immediately to open the airway and the preventative therapy helps control airway inflammation over a longer time period.

“Relievers are the rescue medications you take for immediate relief of acute asthma symptoms,” Dr Sewlall adds. “You may have to use them after exposure to asthma triggers, such as pollen or dust particles.” These medications are inhaled and work quickly to relax the muscles that tighten around your airways. They’re referred to as short-acting bronchodilators and work to open your airways. Quick-relief medicines can also be used before exercise to avoid triggering an acute asthma attack.

When should you worry?

If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They might need to change your medicines or take other steps to control your asthma:

• Your symptoms occur more frequently, are more severe, or wake you up at night

• You’re missing school or work because of your asthma.

• Your peak flow (see peak flow tests under ‘Your asthma action plan’ ) is low compared to your personal best or varies a lot from day to day.

• You have to use your quick-relief medicine more often – if you’re using your inhaler three or more days a week, your asthma isn’t well controlled.

• You have to go to the emergency room or doctor because of an asthma attack.

Dr Sewlall warns you should get to your closest Mediclinic EC if your symptoms continue to get worse even after using quick-relief medication. You must also seek emergency medical help if you can’t speak easily, or you’re straining to breathe. If you begin to feel drowsy or tired following an acute asthma attack, or your lips or face have a blueish tint, you must also get to an EC as soon as possible.