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 take a moment after school to test their airflow with a peak flow meter. But even though asthma is a part of so many people's daily lives, there are times when they can feel annoyed or frustrated at having asthma — just as they get annoyed or frustrated by anything else.
Different people have different reactions to the ways that asthma affects their lives. For example, some worry that they might have to avoid all physical activities — even those approved by their doctors — and miss out on fun. Others go to the opposite extreme, denying they have asthma at all and maybe forgetting or refusing to take the medications that can control it. Still others find that asthma is a convenient excuse to get out of chores or gym class.
If you have asthma and don't want it to have control over you, take control first.
The best tool for controlling asthma is something your doctor gives you called an asthma action plan. Following all the steps described in an action plan allows people with asthma to enjoy daily activities just like everyone else.
Your asthma action plan offers you the best protection against potentially dangerous (not to mention embarrassing) episodes — such as having an asthma attack at a party where people are smoking.
Unfortunately, people may not always stick with their plan for lots of different reasons. Maybe they forget to take medications. Perhaps they don't completely understand why they're supposed to take certain steps or medications. A few might feel embarrassed about checking their airflow or using an inhaler in front of others. And some may mistakenly think they don't need medicine after they start feeling better — putting them at risk for potentially 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 medication and step of the plan is important. You'll feel more in control if you understand exactly what's going on and what will happen if you follow (or don't follow) your plan. Check 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 controller medicines and peak flow meters if they're a part of your treatment plan. Although it can be tempting to skip recommended daily meds and rely only on occasional rescue medicines, this usually doesn't work.
Set up a schedule. It can be easy to slip up and forget to take a medication — but this is less likely to happen if you follow the steps on your action plan 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 now recommend that all kids and teens get a flu shot, and this is particularly important for people with asthma who have a greater chance of developing a more serious illness when they catch the flu.
Find a sport or activity that works for you. Some sports, such as swimming and baseball, are less likely to trigger asthma flare-ups. Other sports may be more challenging for people with asthma, like endurance or cold-weather sports. Many athletes have found that with proper training and medication, they can participate in any sport they choose. Sports can boost your mood — 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.