Limit asthma attacks by learning how to anticipate and prevent them.
Step 1: Recognize the symptoms Recognize asthma symptoms, which include wheezing, breathing problems that become worse after physical activity, coughing fits, especially at night or when lying down, and colds that last more than ten days.
TIP: A family history of asthma increases your chances of having the disease.
Step 2: See a doctor If you suspect you have asthma, have a medical doctor evaluate your condition. You may benefit from daily medication to prevent attacks. You may also need to carry a quick-reliever, like an inhaler, in case an attack occurs.
TIP: Contrary to what some people think, cough medicine doesn't relieve asthma symptoms.
Step 3: Know the warning signs Learn to recognize the warning signs of an attack so you can treat it before it becomes severe. Common symptoms include chest tightness, coughing, spitting up phlegm, wheezing, and a whistling noise when you breathe.
TIP: An asthma attack causes airways to swell and become inflamed and the muscles around the airways to contract, causing your breathing tubes to narrow.
Step 4: Avoid triggers Try to avoid or limit your exposure to things that spark attacks. Common triggers include pollen, mold, dust, animals, tobacco smoke, smog, strenuous exercise, certain cleaning products, perfume, cold air, and aspirin and other pain relievers.
TIP: To reduce contact with dust mites, use mattress and pillow covers, don't use down bedding, and don't sleep with stuffed animals on your bed.
Step 5: Monitor your attacks Get a peak-flow meter, a device that measures airflow from the lungs. Blow into the meter when you're not having an attack to determine your "personal best" reading. You can compare the number against future measurements, helping to confirm when an attack may be imminent and determine if your medicine is working.
Step 6: Know when to get help Go to the emergency room if you can't speak more than short phrases, are straining to breathe, or if your peak-flow reading is less than 50 percent of your personal best.
FACT: About 20 percent of summer Olympics athletes have asthma, according to research.