The breathlessness of an asthma attack is scary to witness, especially when the person having trouble breathing is your child or another loved one. But you have to act quickly and make smart decisions even if you are frightened—and having a solid asthma action plan in place could even save a life. Your asthma action plan should include knowledge of your loved one’s triggers, symptoms, and prescription medications, and will help you answer questions like these in an emergency:
• What type of asthma treatment should you administer?
• When should you call the doctor?
Although you will develop your plan with your own doctor, it is recommended that you create an asthma-action plan that relates specific asthma symptoms to the medications being taken for asthma treatment.
Who makes the asthma attack action plan?
Asthmatics can work with their primary care doctor or asthma specialist to develop a plan for their asthma treatment in the event of an asthma attack, according to Richard Castriotta, MD, professor of medicine and associate director of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Houston Medical School. “We use the asthma action plan in general, and we tailor-make all of our treatment recommendations to the special needs of our patients,” says Dr Castriotta, who cares for patients with severe asthma and other lung conditions.
How to respond to asthma symptoms
Learning which symptoms require which action is an important starting point for any caregiver of someone who has asthma attacks. Symptoms that need a response include:
• Chest tightening
• Shortness of breath
• Waking up at night with symptoms
• Difficulty completing usual activities (in a child, this may be a lack of interest in playing)
Your loved one's action plan for asthma treatment should detail:
• The daily dose of medication needed for long-term asthma control
• The triggers or allergens that can set off asthma symptoms
• The dosage of the medication you can give and whether it’s appropriate to administer an additional or increased dose when symptoms flare
• The symptoms that warrant a call the doctor or dictate a trip to the emergency room (and it should include contact information for those locations).
Most people who have only occasional asthma symptoms in response to allergens or strenuous exercise can get by with an albuterol rescue inhaler, says Castriotta. But the exact medication and dose needed when symptoms intensify depends on such individual factors as age, overall health, and other medical issues.
People with persistent or severe asthma may have one or two medications they take daily to control their asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks, in addition to rescue inhalers to help control immediate symptoms. It’s also important in asthma treatment to try to remove allergens or triggers from your loved one’s environment.
When to call the doctor
If your loved one has an asthma attack and doesn’t experience relief within 10 minutes of administering a short-acting beta-2 inhaler, such as an albuterol inhaler, it’s time to call the doctor. It’s important to note that these inhalers are not intended for daily use in asthma treatment. If the asthmatic uses the inhaler two or more times a week to control asthma symptoms, the asthma is poorly controlled and the doctor should be notified.
When to go to the emergency room
Go to the ER if:
• You gave the prescribed medications and symptoms were not relieved in the time you expected (usually about an hour);
• Your loved one cannot walk or talk and breathe.
Giving additional or stronger doses of medications beyond what has been prescribed can be dangerous (sometimes even leading to death). You will need a professional medical checkup because there may be another underlying illness causing the asthma symptoms.
Bottom line: An asthma action plan will make you and your loved one feel more secure. Talk to your loved one’s doctor and get your specific plan of action in place before an asthma attack occurs.