Asthma is more common these days than it used to be. The good news is it's also a lot easier to manage and control.
Since more teens have asthma, you're probably used to seeing people take a break from sports to use an inhaler, or maybe you use an inhaler yourself. But even though asthma is a part of so many people's daily lives, there are times when it can seem annoying or frustrating.
Different people have different reactions to the ways that asthma affects their lives. For example, some worry that they might have to avoid exercise and miss out on fun. Others go to the opposite extreme, denying they have asthma at all and maybe forgetting or deliberately not taking the medicines they need to control it. A few people think asthma is a convenient excuse to get out of chores or gym class.
If you have asthma and don't want it to control your life, take control first.
The best way to manage asthma is following an asthma action plan. Your doctor will give you a plan designed just for you. Doing everything on the plan — even when you feel well — will allow you to enjoy life just like everyone else.
Your asthma action plan offers you the best protection against possibly dangerous (or embarrassing) situations, like having an asthma flare-up (attack) at a party where people are smoking.
Unfortunately, people may not always stick with their plan. Maybe they forget to take their medicine. Perhaps they don't completely understand why they're supposed to take certain steps or medications. A few might feel embarrassed about using an inhaler or peak flow meter in front of others.
Some people may think they don't need medicine after they start feeling better. That's not true. Not taking medicines as a doctor tells you to puts you (or anyone with asthma) at risk for dangerous flare-ups.
Here are some simple steps that can help you get around these common problems:
- Understand your plan. Ask your doctor to explain why each medicine and step of the plan is important. If you understand exactly what's going on, you'll feel more in control. Go over the plan whenever you see your doctor, especially if in with your doctor often and go over the plan. Explaining where you may have had trouble with it and why.
- Use asthma management tools. Even if you're feeling absolutely fine, don't abandon tools like daily long-term control medicines (also called "controller" or "maintenance" medicines) if they're a part of your treatment plan. Although it can be tempting to skip recommended daily meds and rely only on occasional quick-relief medicines, this usually doesn't work.
- Set up a schedule. It can be easy to slip up and forget to take a medicine — but this is less likely to happen if you plan to take medicines or do other asthma management tasks, at the same time every day. Make your medicine part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth.
- Don't smoke. Cigarette smoke is a common cause of asthma aggravation in teens. Talk to your parent or a doctor about how to quit if you smoke. If your friends smoke, don't stand nearby when they light up because secondhand smoke is a common trigger of asthma attacks. If someone in your family smokes, talk with him or her about quitting.
- Control your environment. Environmental triggers, such as dust mites and pet dander, can be hazardous if you have asthma. If you have pets, keep Fido or Fluffy out of your room. Also, try to keep your room dust free by cleaning it regularly, and talk to your doctor about using special mattress and pillow covers.
- Get a flu shot every year. Health officials recommend that all kids and teens get a flu shot. Flu shots are particularly important for people with asthma. When someone with asthma catches the flu, he or she has a higher chance of developing a more serious illness.
- Find a sport or activity that works for you. Some sports, such as swimming and baseball, are less likely to trigger asthma flare-ups. But many athletes have found that with proper training and medication, they can participate in any sport they want — even endurance or cold-weather sports. Sports can boost your mood, and that's a great help for those times when you may feel frustrated about having asthma.
Using a management plan to deal with asthma is good for more than your health. Getting used to following an asthma action plan can give you the discipline to stick with a plan and succeed in other areas of life as well.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014