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Asthma in Teens and Adults (cont.)

Treatment Overview

It's important to treat asthma, because even mild asthma can damage your airways.

Know the goals of treatment

By following your treatment plan, you can meet your goals to:11

  • Prevent symptoms.
  • Keep your peak flow and lung function as close to normal as possible.
  • Be able to do your normal daily activities, including work, school, exercise, and recreation.
  • Prevent asthma attacks.
  • Have few or no side effects from medicine.
Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Taking Charge of Your Asthma

Follow your asthma action plan

An asthma action plan tells you which medicines to take every day and how to treat asthma attacks. It also may include an asthma diary where you record your peak expiratory flow (PEF), symptoms, and triggers. This helps you identify triggers that can be changed or avoided. It also lets you be aware of your symptoms and know how to make quick decisions about medicine and treatment. See an example of an asthma action planClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?).

Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Using an Asthma Action Plan

Take medicines

You'll likely take several medicines to control your asthma and to prevent attacks. Your doctor may adjust your medicines depending on how well your asthma is controlled. Medicines include:

  • Oral or injected corticosteroids. These medicines may be used to get your asthma under control before you start taking daily medicine. They can also be used to treat any sudden and severe symptoms (asthma attacks), such as shortness of breath.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids (controller medicine). These reduce the inflammation in your airways. You take them every day to keep asthma under control and to prevent asthma attacks.
  • Short-acting beta2-agonists and anticholinergics (quick-relief medicine). These medicines are used for asthma attacks. Overuse of quick-relief medicine can be harmful.

Inhalers deliver medicine directly to the lungs. To get the best asthma control possible, be sure you know how to use your inhaler. Use a spacerClick here to see an illustration. with your inhaler if your doctor recommends it.

Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Using a Metered-Dose Inhaler
Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Using a Dry Powder Inhaler

Go to checkups

Be sure to monitor your asthma and have regular checkups. Checkups are recommended every 1 to 6 months, depending on how well your asthma is controlled.

Monitor peak flow

It's easy to underestimate how severe your symptoms are. You may not notice them until your lungs are functioning at 50% of your personal best peak expiratory flow (PEF).

Measuring PEF is a way to keep track of asthma symptoms at home. It can help you know when your lung function is getting worse before it drops to a dangerously low level. You can do this with a peak flow meterClick here to see an illustration..

Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Measuring Peak Flow

Control triggers

Being around asthma triggers increases symptoms. Try to avoid irritants (such as smoke or air pollution) or things that you may be allergic to (such as animal dander). If something at work is causing your asthma or making it worse (occupational asthma), you may need to wear protective gear, switch to some other task or area, or change jobs.

Click here to view an Actionset.Asthma: Identifying Your Triggers

If you have persistent asthma and react to allergens, you may need to have skin testing for allergies. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may be helpful.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Allergies: Should I Take Allergy Shots?

Get help for special concerns

Special considerations in treating asthma include:

  • Treating other health problems. If you also have other health problems, such as inflammation and infection of the sinuses (sinusitis) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you will need treatment for those conditions.
  • Managing asthma during pregnancy. If a woman had asthma before becoming pregnant, her symptoms may become better or worse during pregnancy. Pregnant women whose asthma is not well controlled may be at risk for a number of complications.
  • Managing exercise-induced asthma. Exercise often causes asthma symptoms. Steps you can take to reduce the risk of this include using medicine 10 to 30 minutes before you exercise.
  • Managing asthma before surgery. People who have moderate to severe asthma are at higher risk of having problems during and after surgery than people who don't have asthma.
  • Managing asthma in older adults. Older adults tend to have worse asthma symptoms and a higher risk of death from asthma than younger people. They may also have one or more other health conditions or be taking other medicines that can make asthma symptoms worse.

Know what to do if asthma gets worse

If your asthma isn't improving, make an appointment with your doctor to:

  • Review your asthma diary to see if you have a new or previously unidentified trigger, such as animal dander. Talk to your doctor about how best to avoid triggers.
  • Review your medicines to be sure you are using the right ones and are using them correctly.
  • Review your asthma action plan to be sure it is still suitable for your condition.
  • See if you have a condition with symptoms similar to asthma, such as sinusitis.
  • Make sure you are using your inhaler correctly.

If your medicine isn't controlling airway inflammation, your doctor will first check to see if you are using the inhaler correctly. If you are using it the right way, your doctor may increase the dosage or switch to another medicine. Or he or she may add a medicine to your treatment.

For severe asthma that cannot be controlled with medicines, a newer treatment called bronchial thermoplasty may be used. For this treatment, heat is applied to the airways. This reduces the thickness of the airways and improves the ability to breathe.12, 13

Plan for emergencies

If you have a severe asthma attack (the red zone of your asthma action plan), use medicine based on your action plan and talk with a doctor right away about what to do next. This is especially important if your peak expiratory flow (PEF) doesn't return to the green zone or if it stays in the yellow zone after you take medicine.

You may have to go to the hospital or an emergency room for treatment. Be sure to tell the emergency staff if you are pregnant.

At the hospital, you will probably receive inhaled beta2-agonists and corticosteroids. You may be given oxygen therapy. Your lung function and condition will be checked. You may need more treatment in the emergency room or a stay in the hospital.

Some people are at increased risk of death from asthma, such as people who have been admitted to an intensive care unit for asthma or who have needed a breathing tube (intubation) for asthma. If you are high-risk, seek medical care early when you have symptoms.

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