8 ways to look after yourself with asthma

As well as taking your regular asthma medication, there are simple lifestyle and self-help measures that you can take to reduce your symptoms and your risk of having an asthma attack.

If you've been diagnosed with asthma and you've been given regular preventive and reliever therapy, it's important to use the preventive treatment every day even if you're feeling well. Because asthma can't be cured and triggers can't always be avoided, using safe, regular medications is the best way of achieving a normal life.

There are additional measures that you can take:

Avoid triggers

Everyone's asthma triggers are different. Some people's asthma is triggered by exposure to pet hair or fur; others by pollens, and others by non-allergic irritants, such as perfumes. Some women notice that their asthma is worst just before their monthly period.

If you've noticed a possible trigger for your asthma, it's worth discussing it with your doctor or nurse at your next review. For more information, read asthma triggers.

Stop smoking

Stopping smoking is the best way to help yourself if you have asthma, according to Dr Mike Thomas from Asthma UK.

“Smoke acts as an irritant and can trigger asthma attacks,” says Dr Thomas. “It makes inhaled medicine less effective. As a result, you're likely to need to take bigger doses of inhaled steroid medication.

“If you have asthma and you smoke, your chances of developing conditions such as COPD or bronchitis increases. Your lungs are already inflamed, and cigarette smoke can have an even more powerful effect."

Secondhand smoke can be a trigger too. It's important for people with asthma to stay in a smoke-free environment.

See your GP for help if you want to give up smoking. The NHS offers lots of help and support.

Get regular exercise

Although exercise or physical activity can trigger an asthma attack, it shouldn't happen once you have the appropriate treatment, such as inhalers. “People with asthma should take regular exercise. It’s the healthy thing to do,” Dr Thomas says. “Walking, swimming and cycling are all activities you can do if you have asthma. A lot of top sportsmen and women have asthma.” (Note that scuba divers need to have special medicals before they can dive).

If you find that exercise gives you troublesome asthma symptoms, discuss this with your doctor. You may need more preventive asthma treatments. Sometimes, using your reliever inhaler 20 minutes before planned exercise helps to reduce subsequent symptoms.

Be in control

"It's good for people with asthma to be in control of their condition," says Dr Thomas. "Form a partnership with your GP or asthma nurse. Make sure that you understand your condition, and that you have a personal action plan. Know what to do when things change.

“Sit down with your GP or nurse and discuss your medication, and any changes to your dosage. This could prevent a crisis, such as having to call your doctor. Everyone should have a check-up at least once a year.”

Take care in cold weather

Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Be especially careful in winter. Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you go out, wear a scarf over your nose and mouth. Be extra careful about taking your regular medications. Keep rescue inhalers close by and in a warm place.

Eat healthily

Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and few additives may help with asthma in the long term. It also helps if you stay trim. “Obesity has an adverse impact on asthma, so people with asthma should try to stay a healthy weight,” says Dr Thomas.

Get your jabs

If you take inhaled or oral steroids to control your asthma, you need flu and pneumonia vaccinations to reduce your chances of a serious respiratory illness.

The flu and pneumonia jabs are available free from your GP.

The flu jab is given every year from October. The pneumonia jab is a one-off jab that protects against certain types of pneumonia, septicaemia (blood poisoning) and meningitis. You can have the flu and pneumonia jabs at the same time.

Check your painkillers

If you have asthma and you take aspirin or other painkillers, there's a very small chance that you'll have a bad reaction to the medication. If this happens, stop taking the aspirin and seek advice from your doctor.

Asthma: an animation

Asthma is a chronic condition affecting the lungs which can be managed but not cured. This animation explains in detail what happens when someone has asthma.

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 02/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 13/02/2012

Next review due: 13/02/2014

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