asthma treatments

Best Treatments for Asthma Flare-Ups

Helping You Live a Fuller Life with Asthma

Asthma is classified as a chronic disease of the lungs, which is characterized by ongoing attacks of wheezing and breathlessness, which can vary from mild to severe. It impacts about 25 million Americans and is currently the most common chronic disease in children. With such a prevalence, it’s likely that you know someone with this condition so understanding what to do during an asthma flare-up can help save a life! Read on to learn about the best asthma treatments for flare-ups and how to manage asthma long-term.

Treatments for Asthma Attacks

When it comes to treating an asthma attack or flare-up, there are two main types of medications: long-term control medicines and quick relief or fast-acting medicines for acute situations.

Long-Term Control Medications

As the name suggests, these medications are taken regularly over the long term to help control the swelling and mucus production within the lungs to improve asthma symptoms. They can also be called controller, anti-inflammatory or maintenance medicines and are typically taken via a nebulizer, an inhaler, a puffer or a dry powdered inhaler. The amount and frequency that is recommended will depend on asthma severity.

Quick Relief Medicines

Unlike long-term medications, these medicines are recommended for use during asthma attacks since they are designed to stop asthma symptoms once they have already started. They quickly relax the muscles of the airway to make breathing easier, which is why they are often referred to as rescue medications or bronchodilators. Some common rescue inhalers include:

  • Levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA).
  • Metaproterenol.
  • Terbutaline.
  • Albuterol (ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA).

You can also take a quick relief medication before physical activities or other triggers for asthma symptoms. However, make sure you have figured out the dosages and when to take them with your doctor. If you need to take them more than twice a week, then your asthma may not be under control and your doctor may have to adjust your long-term medications.

Oral Steroids

A third class of medications, oral steroids, don’t fall into either of these categories, but can sometimes be used for about 7 to 10 days if you are experiencing an asthma flare-up that won’t resolve. They are not inhaled but are generally taken as either a liquid, capsule or pill.

Asthma Treatment and Management Plans

Depending on the severity, asthma treatments can vary slightly. Unless someone has very mild asthma they will likely be prescribed specific medications to help.

If you have asthma, it's important to develop an asthma management plan that you can follow to help prevent flare-ups. While everyone's plan will look slightly different, four parts are recommended by the ​Asthma & Allergy Foundation​. To avoid frequent asthma attacks there are a few things that you can do. While there are no guarantees, following the steps outlined in an asthma management plan is an important part of treating the condition and limiting attacks.

1​. Know your Triggers

E​veryone will have slightly different triggers ranging from cigarette smoke to dust to exercise or illness. It's important to keep track of your triggers so that you can minimize contact with them as much as possible. These triggers can be added to your asthma action plan, which is outlined below.

2​. Take your Prescribed Medications

We've discussed some of the common asthma treatments above such as long-term medicines, rescue medicines and oral steroids. If you have asthma you must take your prescribed medications as directed to limit your use of the above-mentioned rescue inhalers and keep your asthma under control. It’s recommended that you have your nurse or doctor watch while you use your inhaler to ensure you are using it correctly since they are only effective when properly used.

3. Track your Asthma Symptoms

By keeping track of your symptoms over time you and your doctor can assess whether your asthma is getting worse. Asthma attacks rarely occur without a prior warning by the body. These symptoms can include chest tightness, tiredness and coughing. Using a peak flow meter can help monitor your airways and with the help of your doctor you can assign different flow values to specific medications.

4. Develop your Asthma Action Plan

An asthma action plan is something you develop with your doctor or primary care provider that outlines asthma severity, specific triggers and exactly what to do when asthma symptoms are in different zones. These zones range from green to red:

  • Green: Doing well, no wheezing, coughing or symptoms. Medications may be taken daily or on an as-needed basis as decided by your doctor.
  • Yellow: Caution/take action zone. Experiencing chest tightening, coughing, wheezing and trouble to sleep. At this stage, you should take your quick-relief or fast-acting medications. If the symptoms above have persisted for more than 24 hours, it is recommended to follow Red zone instructions and contact a doctor.
  • Red: Danger/get help immediately. Breathing is hard and fast; difficulty talking, playing and/or working; medications are not helping.

You can download a template from the American Lung Association here. If you haven’t yet made one, take it to your next doctor’s appointment and go through it together so you both know exactly what needs to happen at every zone of your asthma experience. It should clearly outline your medications, when to take them and how much to take. The medication and amount may vary depending on which zone you are in and the severity of your asthma.

Hopefully, the information in this guide has helped you to feel more prepared for what to do if you or someone in your life has an asthma attack.

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