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Breathe Easily: Winter Asthma Advice

People with asthma need extra TLC during cold and flu season. WebMD goes to the experts for advice on staying healthy all winter long.

Your Winter Asthma Action Plan continued...

According to the American Lung Association, your plan should include not only a list of the asthma triggers you need to avoid, but also the specific symptoms you need to be on the lookout for, such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

The plan should also list your regular medications, the symptoms they control, and most important, what to do and what to take in the event of an asthma emergency.

"You should always have on hand one or more fast-acting medications, drugs you know you can take for immediate relief," says Field.

You should also make a habit of using your peak flow meter. This is a device designed to monitor how well your asthma is doing. It measures your ability to forcefully expel air from the lungs, and experts say using one regularly can help you head off a potential crisis regardless of the season.

"By remaining aware of your peak flow meter readings on a regular basis, you will know when you are headed for trouble before you get there. And that means your doctor can prescribe additional medications, such as steroids, to offset any major asthma events before a cold or flu has a chance to take hold," says Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, clinical director of the Breath and Lung Institute, Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

The American Lung Association also advises patients to classify their peak flow meter readings and their symptoms into three zones -- and use them as a guide to determine how well your asthma is under control.

The three zones are:

  • Green Zone: Peak flow reading of 80%-100% of your usual "personal best" peak flow reading. The green zone indicates good asthma control.
  • Yellow Zone: Peak flow reading of 50%-80% of your usual peak flow reading. This indicates that your asthma control is not optimal. You may or may not notice symptoms such as cough or wheezing. Your asthma needs to be addressed according to the asthma action plan set up by you and your doctor.
  • Red Zone: Peak flow reading of less than 50% of your usual reading. This indicates poor asthma control needing rescue medications. Make sure to follow your asthma plan regarding use of rescue drugs and seeking medical attention.

Particularly during cold and flu season, the American Lung Association recommends that you strive to remain in the green zone and contact your doctor as soon as you begin dropping into the yellow zone.

Asthma and Cold Medicines: What You Should Know

If you do find yourself with a cold or the flu, there is an abundance of over-the-counter medications that can help. But experts advise asthma patients to take some extra precautions and talk to their doctor before deciding what treatment to use. The reason: some over-the-counter medications can be harmful.

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