Going to the emergency room is the last resort for someone who
has asthma. If a
is really out of hand - and your medicine isn't working or you
forgot your inhaler - you need to get emergency care for your
breathing trouble. The good news is that you can prevent emergency
room visits if you take steps to get your asthma under control.
Read on to find out how you can manage your asthma and avoid the
Make a plan.
Work with your doctor to create a personalized plan for managing
your asthma (also called an
asthma action plan
). This plan should be realistic and should fit into your daily
life. Your plan should outline your day-to-day treatment, give you
symptoms to watch for, and provide you with step-by-step
instructions on what to do when you're having a flare-up.
Once you have a plan, use it to take control. Put any daily
requirements the plan calls for - such as taking medications before
exercising - into your schedule so you don't forget to do
these. Keep a copy of your plan with you so you'll know what to
do if you have a flare-up. And don't be afraid to talk to your
doctor if you find your plan isn't working for you. He or she
can adjust your plan so it's more effective.
Your doctor should be able to help you figure out the
that can lead you to have an asthma flare-up. These may include
animals, dust mites, mold, tobacco smoke, cold air, exercise, and
infections. Once you know what your triggers are, you can try to
steer clear of them.
Take your controller medicine.
work over a long period of time to prevent flare-ups. Depending on
how serious your asthma is, you may have to take controller
medications every day, even if you feel great. It's tempting to
skip daily controller medications - lots of people fall into the
trap of thinking they can just use rescue medicine when they have a
flare-up. But doing this actually makes it more likely you'll
have a flare-up and that it will be a severe one.
Have your inhaler with you.
can help you during a flare-up, so don't leave home without it.
Many emergency room visits for asthma happen because the person
forgot his or her inhaler.
Know the early signs of a flare-up.
Everyone's asthma is different. Some people cough only at
night, and others might have flare-ups whenever they get a cold or
exercise outside. Get to know your asthma and pay attention to what
happens before you have a flare-up so that you know the early
warning signs. These signs may not mean for sure that a flare-up
will happen, but they can help you to plan ahead.
Peak Flow Meters
peak flow meter
can be a really useful tool in helping to determine if you might be
getting ready for a flare-up. Your doctor can tell you which number
ranges to watch out for.
Other early warning signs of a flare-up may include:
- coughing, even if you don't have a cold
- tightness in your chest
- throat clearing
- rapid or irregular breathing
- inability to stand or sit still
- unusual fatigue
- restless sleep
Your asthma action plan should tell you how to handle any early
signs of a flare-up. This may mean using your rescue medicine or
adjusting your controller meds slightly.
Flare-ups do happen, of course. An important part of staying
away from the ER or your doctor's office is calmly and
carefully following your asthma action plan when you do have a
flare-up. Most flare-ups, when treated as your doctor tells you to,
will go away quickly.
Signs You May Need to Go to the ER
Even if you do your best, you may still get the occasional
flare-up. Don't be embarrassed to get emergency help if you
think you need it. Here are some situations that call for emergency
- You take your asthma medicine and your flare-up doesn't
get any better.
- You feel a little better after taking your medicine, but your
serious symptoms come back quickly.
- You see that your lips and fingernails are bluish or
- You have trouble talking or walking.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you might want to let your
friends know about your asthma. Then they can help you if you ever
have a severe flare-up.
Although asthma can be dangerous, when it's well managed
it's rarely life threatening. Studies show that on the rare
occasions when people have died from asthma, it's usually
because they haven't taken their medications as prescribed and
they have a history of repeated severe asthma flare-ups and
emergency care. If you take your asthma seriously and work to
manage it, you may never need to go to the emergency room.
Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: April 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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