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Preventing Asthma Attacks

written by: bjlbyron • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 9/27/2010

Asthma is a sometimes severe, sometimes merely bothersome condition in which inflammation restricts air flow through the airways. This article discusses the common triggers of asthma attacks and suggests an action plan that people of all ages can follow for the purpose of asthma attack prevention.

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    What Are The Common Triggers Of Asthma Attacks?

    The list of common triggers of asthma attacks is not a short one. In fact, it is long and diverse. Cigarette and cigar smoke, dust (which is mostly dead human skin), animal fur, return of cold weather, foods and food additives, air impurities, mold, mites, pollen, sicknesses such as the common cold and related illnesses, and certain drugs, including aspirin, have all been shown to be triggers that stimulate asthma attacks in those prone to experiencing such attacks.

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    What Is A Recommended Action Plan For Preventing Asthma Attacks?

    Unfortunately, there is no known single course of action for asthma attack prevention. Instead, it is wise to develop a specific action plan that should be routinely followed for the purpose of minimizing the risk of suffering from an asthma attack.

    If you or a loved one, such as your young child, are prone to experiencing asthma attacks, an example action plan for minimizing the frequency of such attacks follows. The first step that you should take is to obtain a spiral notebook. This notebook not only will be used to to prepare a complete, written action plan, but in it you also will write down daily (or frequent) notes that will be useful in identifying your own specific asthma triggers and other information that will be useful in managing your asthma symptoms.

    Once you have a new spiral notebook, you should write on the first page your doctor's office phone number (and e-mail address if your doctor is open to communicating by e-mail) and a list of all medications that you are taking, both ones that have been prescribed for asthma and those that you are taking for other conditions, and the time or times at which you take each medicine each day. Further, if the plan you are creating is for your child, you should indicate on that page exactly where all of your child's medications are kept. Such information may be needed at a moment's notice when someone else, such as a new babysitter, is caring for your child. (When your child is in need of his/her nebulizer, you do not want his/her caretaker to have to waste any precious time opening and closing cabinet doors!) This front page of your notebook therefore contains important reference information that can be readily referred to as needed, which may be quite frequently if your prescriptions change routinely.

    In the following pages of your notebook, you should keep detailed notes about each asthma attack. You truly want to be thorough here and not neglect any piece of information. For example, you should list everything that was ingested over a several hour period before the attack. This includes all food, drinks, candies, and medicines (even generally benign medicines, such as antacid tablets and cough drops). Everything.

    You will also want to include in your notes detailed information regarding all of the environmental stimuli that you experience before and during an attack. For example, if you are a non-smoker and you visit the house of your neighbor who is a smoker prior to an attack, be sure to write that down, even if the neighbor did not smoke during your visit (some smoke may have been in the air from an earlier cigarette). If you cleaned the garage, sat in the mechanic's waiting room or used a particular brand of floor cleaner, be sure to add that to your notebook. Again, it is better to include too much information than not enough. The more information that you have, the more likely you will be able to spot triggers as your notebook entries grow in number.

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    You will also want to write down everything you were experiencing physically before the attack and as it arose. Perhaps you heard yourself wheezing ever so slightly a couple of hours before the attack hit hard. Write that down. Again, it is better to be overly thorough than it is to leave out small details that may be extremely useful down the road to you or your doctor.

    In time, perhaps even as short as a few weeks if you have frequent attacks, you should begin to be able not only to pick out certain triggers, and maybe even very subtle ones, but you also likely will identify common triggers that do not seem to affect you. Once you identify your own personal triggers, you will need to make it a point to avoid them. For example, after reviewing several entries in your notebook, you may realize that an asthma attack follows every trip, even the briefest of ones, to your neighbor's smokey house. You would then know that your neighbor's house is off limits to you. As another example, if you learn that dust is a trigger for you, you may need to arrange to have a friend or family member dust your house while you are not home to keep your exposure to dust as minimal as possible.

    Other important information that should be included in your notebook is your response to the various asthma medicines that you are taking. You might just determine after taking many notes that a particular medicine is not working that well or that a certain dosage of a particular medicine is working better for you than is another dosage. These notes will help your doctor optimize your treatment plan and may even help him/her to notice trends that you may not pick up on. (For example, that a certain non-asthma drug is limiting the beneficial effects of one of your asthma drugs.)

    Finally, the notes that you keep should be on-going even after you feel that you have identified every trigger and have limited your exposure to them as much as possible. This is true because triggers can change over time. You do not want to undermine your good efforts by neglecting to realize that something that never bothered you before, say a certain type of food, is now one of your worst asthma enemies. A consistent and proactive approach is the best asthma attack prevention approach. I wish you well in learning how to avoid future asthma attacks.

    Please note that this article is not meant to replace the good advice of your family doctor. To best treat your asthma, it is recommended that you work with him/her as much as possible and to strictly follow his/her recommendations.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic, Asthma In Children: Creating An Asthma Action Plan: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/HQ00273

    MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health, Asthma: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000141.htm