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Treating Asthma: Partnering With Your Doctor

Want to get your asthma symptoms under control? Start by working closely with your doctor. Here's how.
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WebMD Feature

Taking an active role in your medical care is always a good idea. But if you have asthma, it's essential.

"If you don't control your asthma, it will control you," says allergist Jonathan A. Bernstein, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

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While it can't be cured, good treatment allows most people with asthma to live full, normal lives. But taming your asthma isn't something you can do on your own. You'll need to work closely with your doctor to devise a treatment plan that fits in with your life.

Since your condition can be affected by so many things -- the weather, your diet, and your medication, to name a few -- it's crucial that you and your doctor respond quickly to changes in your symptoms. Perhaps more than many other diseases, asthma requires a good partnership for good treatment.

"Here's the bottom line," Bernstein tells WebMD. "A person's relationship with his or her physician really determines whether the asthma is under control or not."

But how do you know if you're getting the best care possible? How can you find a specialist whom you like and trust? If you want a healthy life and good control of your asthma, what should you expect from your doctor -- and what should he or she expect from you? We asked some experts to explain the key to a healthy partnership.

A Good Partnership Helps Control Asthma Symptoms

Experts agree that working together with your doctor can make a big difference. The current asthma treatment guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute state that the doctor-patient partnership is the "cornerstone" of good treatment. The guidelines cite many studies showing the success of patient education in using inhalers, reducing exposure to allergens, and treating emergencies.

But unfortunately, not enough people are partnering with their doctors. In a survey conducted by the CDC in 2001, less than half of people with asthma reported that they had a routine checkup with a doctor in the last year.

Losing control of your asthma can lead to serious complications. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, asthma is one of the most common and most costly illnesses in the U.S.; 20 million people have it. Every year, asthma hospitalizes around 500,000 people and kills more than 5,000. A lot of that suffering could be avoided if people had better control over their condition, according to the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

More than ever, asthma experts are stressing the importance of control and prevention.

Bernstein says that the old way of evaluating asthma -- with categories like "mild," "moderate" and "severe" -- is becoming outdated. "We now know that if a person with so-called 'severe' asthma is properly managed, he or she can really be a mild case," he tells WebMD. "And people with 'mild' asthma that isn't controlled can be quite sick."

Asthma can be tricky because its symptoms can change a lot over time. If you move to a new home or get a new job, you could encounter new irritants and allergens. Your symptoms might change if you start taking medicine for other health conditions. You may find that conditions such as arthritis can make it harder to use your inhaler than it once was. You and your doctor will need to adjust your treatment to reflect these changes. But that won't happen if you're not making regular appointments.

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