A few years back, one of the Harvard Medical School publications put out a “10 Tips for Coping with Chronic Illness” piece. I thought it might be helpful to adapt their advice to coping with asthma, as asthma is a chronic condition.
When you have something acute, such as the common cold, the flu, a bug bite or poison ivy, it can be annoying and you may feel awful. However, you know that it will eventually pass and you’ll feel better. But when you have a chronic condition like asthma, chances are it’s not ever going away. And that can be tough to take. But, you CAN adapt, take charge of managing your asthma and still live a high quality of life by following these tips.
1. Learn everything you can about asthma. The best ammunition for managing a chronic condition such as asthma is to understand what it is, how it affects you and what your options are for treatment. Start with your doctor and/or doctor’s health professionals, such as registered nurses on staff. Ask questions; don’t let them put you off because they are busy. You have the right to get answers
Read about asthma and asthma treatment. Just make sure that the information you’re getting is reputable. There is a lot of misinformation about health, especially on the Internet. This HealthCentral website can be trusted, as can most hospital websites and organizations such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (aaaai.org). Your doctor’s office may have pamphlets or you can ask them to recommend books you could read about asthma.
2. Think of your doctor as your teammate – not your boss – in asthma management. Your doctor is a health and disease expert, but YOU are the expert when it comes to your own body. Listen to your body and keep an ongoing record of changes, of how you respond to treatment and your symptoms.
You and your healthcare professionals both have equal responsibility (and the right!) to evaluate treatment options and to take control of your asthma. Work together on your asthma action plan. Maintain open lines of communication with your doctor, or if that’s not possible, then think about finding a different doctor, perhaps a specialist in asthma care.
3. Expand your asthma management team. Your doctor shouldn’t be your sole partner when it comes to managing your asthma. You might want to consult periodically with an asthma specialist, if your regular doctor is a generalist.
Sometimes a nurse is a better resource for learning about asthma. Or, if you’re trying to lose weight to lighten the load on your respiratory system, you might consult with a nutritionist or a personal trainer. The pharmacist may be more knowledgeable than anyone about what kinds of side effects to expect from your medications or in how your asthma meds might interact with other medications you are taking.
Lastly, your family is an important part of your asthma care team. They are your support system and they should also know about your asthma action plan, so they can help you in case of an emergency.
4. Push for coordination of your healthcare. Asthma may not be the only medical condition you are dealing with, particularly if you are an older adult. You might be seeing different physicians for different reasons. Make sure they are aware of each other and your varying plans of care. This is where a primary care physician can be helpful.
5. Invest in an all-around healthy lifestyle. Whether you have chronic health issues or not, you will always benefit from making healthy living choices. Making these changes isn’t always easy, but the benefits are great. If you smoke, stop, and if family members smoke, then support them in making the choice to stop as well. You will all benefit.
Live an active life. Experts recommend we all get at least 30 minutes of exercise five to six days a week. This can be as simple as walking, or you might try something like Zumba Fitness (my personal favorite!). The important thing is just to stay as active as you can. Train your body to be fit.
Make healthy food choices. Drink lots of water, opt for low-fat, low-sugar foods. Go for whole grains and eat servings of fruits and vegetables as often as nine times a day. When you eat healthy and get active, chances are, you will start to see your weight move towards your healthy range.
Finally, get six to eight hours of sleep every night and do what you can to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Plus, avoid overindulgence in alcohol or the use of non-medicinal drugs.
6. Get your family involved! It will be easier for all of you to invest in a healthy lifestyle if you do it together. And everyone will benefit. As I mentioned above, it’s also important to involve your family in your asthma care too. Communication is the key. Tell them what you need and how they can help you. Help them to understand what it’s like to live with asthma on a day to day basis.
7. Learn about your medications. Find out the best time to take them and how to use any special devices you may have, such as a DPI inhaler, a nebulizer, etc. Ask your doctor or his/her staff to observe you and offer tips for improvement. Follow a strict schedule for your medications. Consistency is a big key to effectiveness. Keep notes on how you feel before and after you take your medications and discuss your observations with your doctor on each visit, so that your care plan can be tweaked and adjusted as needed.
8. Beware of the blues. When you have a chronic health issue, it’s easy to get down in the dumps now and then. With time and a little TLC, most people bounce back from those episodes. But real depression is quite common with chronic conditions too. And it can prevent you from taking your medications or doing the things you need to do to keep your asthma under control.
Know the symptoms of depression and reach out to your doctor if you think you might be dealing with depression. There is always help, if you need it. Depression is not a sign of weakness; it’s just another health issue that needs to be dealt with if you want to lead a happy, healthy life.
9. Reach out to others. Asthma is one of the most common health issues in the world today. You do not have to go it alone! There may be support groups of other asthma sufferers in your local area and/or online. Seek them out.
Connecting with others who know firsthand what you are going through can be so helpful, for both parties. Depending on your needs, you can also find support groups for people trying to quit smoking, people losing weight, people dealing with depression, and so on.
10. Be a proactive healthcare consumer! This goes along with the first few tips above. You have the right and the responsibility to manage your own health. You will have ups and downs, successes and failures, but it’s important to do what you can to get back on track and to keep moving forward. Focus on the positive in your life and take action to stay in control of your asthma. It will pay off!
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.