Treating Asthma: Partnering With Your Doctor
Want to get your asthma symptoms under control? Start by working closely with your doctor. Here's how.
What to Expect from Your Doctor
As a patient, you have the right to the best treatment you can get. Here are
some of the things that you should expect your doctor provide.
- A proper diagnosis. "We see a lot of people who have
been diagnosed with 'asthma' who don't actually have it," says Korenblat.
Instead, they were misdiagnosed by a doctor who never did all of the necessary
tests, like basic lung function analysis.
"We're now in the scientific-evidence based era," says Bernstein.
"We wouldn't treat people for high blood pressure without making a
diagnosis. It should be the same with asthma."
Your doctor should also work hard to figure out which specific allergens or
irritants are causing you problems. This may involve allergy testing.
- A plan. You and your doctor should come up with specific
short-term and long-term goals for your treatment. You should also develop an
action plan. This is a written document that spells out what to do if your
- Explanations. In your first appointment, your doctor
should go over the causes of asthma. When it comes to treatment, your doctor
shouldn't just tell you what to do. He or she should also explain why you need
a particular treatment and why it will help.
"Compliance is really improved if the patients know why their doctor has
prescribed a certain treatment rather than just being told to do it," says
- Clear instructions. Learning how to use a nebulizer or
inhaler can be tricky. "Taking asthma medications isn't always simple,"
says Windom. "You don't need instructions on how to swallow a pill, but you
do need instructions for how to use an inhaler."
So your doctor should demonstrate how to use any devices -- including peak flow
meters -- and make sure that you understand. Edelman says that your doctor
should watch you take your medicines at least once.
Also, make sure your doctor explains when to take your medicines.
"Sometimes, people don't really understand what their medicines do,"
says Edelman. So make sure you know which ones are for long-term control and
which are for quick-relief.
- Openness to your questions. Your doctor should always give
you the time to ask questions and take the time to answer them.
"Questions from an educated patient should not be intimidating to a good
physician," says Bernstein. "If a physician gets defensive when you ask
questions, he or she should either read up more or get out of the job. If your
doctor isn't giving you the answers you need, then you may need to see a new
- Sensitivity to your circumstances. No two cases of asthma
are the same. Your doctor should keep your specific situation in mind when
developing your treatment. For instance, are other medical conditions or
medications affecting your treatment? Are you exposed to allergens that you
can't avoid? Your doctor should be sensitive to your situation and adapt the
treatment so that it fits with your life.
One of the touchiest issues is money. "Doctors can be awfully quick to
write prescriptions, but we don't always think about the costs," says
Bernstein. Asthma medications can cost hundreds of dollars a month. If price is
an issue for you, your doctor may be able to help. See if you could use a
cheaper medication. Bernstein says that your doctor may be able to provide you
with some free samples. Or you could see whether you qualify for the assistance
programs that some pharmaceutical companies offer.
- Thoroughness. "When you've been seeing a specialist, I
think every once in a while, he or she should treat an appointment as if it's
your first visit," says Edelman. "You start again from the beginning,
going over your complete history, your symptoms, and the medicines you
take." It's a good way of seeing the big picture, Edelman says, and of
finding out things that you might forget to mention.