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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.

What Your Doctor Expects from You

Your doctor isn't the only one with responsibilities. So what do you have to provide to keep up your end of the partnership? Here are some items your doctor will want from you:

  • Details. Go in armed with information. Write down the names of any medicines you take. Write down the circumstances of your asthma attacks. Had you just taken any medicine? Gone out for a walk? Been up cleaning the attic? You might even want to keep a symptom diary, since it's an easy way of keeping track. Also, consider larger issues. For instance, is your asthma having an impact on your mood? Is it making work difficult?

  • Your expectations from treatment. Be specific. "You need to say to your doctor exactly what you want to get out of treatment," says Korenblat. What do you want to be able to do that you can't do now? Are you just trying to sleep through the night without a coughing fit? Do you want to play softball in the fall? Do you want to survive a party at the home of a cat-owning in-law? Once you explain the details, your doctor will have a better idea how to help.

  • Questions. If you have any doubts about your treatment, ask. If you don't think that you'll be able to take the medication as prescribed, say so. Then your doctor can work around the problem.

  • Adherence to the treatment plan. Once you and your doctor have come up with a treatment plan, your job is to stick to it -- and that means every single day.

    "A lot of the time, people with asthma think that if they're feeling OK, they can stop taking their medicine," says Bernstein. But that's not the case. Asthma needs consistent treatment, just like any other chronic disease.

    "We always encourage prevention over treatment," says Waldron. "A lot of people who need to use their rescue inhalers wouldn't need to if they could stick to their daily control medication."

    If you decide that you don't like some aspect of your treatment plan, talk to your doctor. Don't ever make changes without his or her OK.

  • Make sure you understand how to take your medication and use any devices. Remember that different inhalers and nebulizers have different instructions. If you need to use more than one inhaler, make sure you know which order to use them in. Understand which medicines you need to take every day and which ones are for times when your symptoms worsen.

  • Environmental control. This should be an obvious one, but even people with bad asthma may be reluctant to make commonsense changes in their lives.

    "Patients have to be accountable," says Bernstein. "I'll see people with asthma who come in and say, 'Cure me.' But then it turns out that they sleep every night with a cat on their face. I try to compromise with people, but they have to be willing to modify their lifestyles, too."

  • Honesty. "Patients have to be forthright," says Korenblat. "That's especially true when we're talking about whether you're using your medications." If you haven't been taking your medicine, 'fess up. You shouldn't worry about your doctor being annoyed, Korenblat says. You just need to explain why. Are you having trouble remembering? Do you feel like you don't need it anymore? Do you not like the side effects? Once you make the reasons clear, your doctor may be able to make changes to resolve the problem.

  • Assertiveness. "People need to be proactive with their physicians," says Bernstein. "They need to ask questions and expect answers."

    This advice applies to every aspect of your life. You need to stand up for yourself with your family, your friends, and your co-workers. If you have to banish smokers outside, do it. If you have a child with asthma, make sure to meet with his or her teachers and school nurse, says Korenblat. They need to understand the condition and know what to do in an emergency.

    "People with asthma sometimes have to be a little selfish," says Edelman. "You need to take control of the situation."

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