Asthma is often a lifelong condition, but that doesn't mean you or your child should have trouble breathing all the time. When you work with a doctor and pay attention to your symptoms -- you may need to adjust your medications for optimal control of your asthma -- you will likely be able to keep flares at bay and do all the things you want to do.
If your asthma isn't as controlled as it could be from day to day, here are a few things you can do to help.
Learn and Avoid Your Triggers
Pay attention to when and where you have symptoms like wheezing and coughing. If you can pinpoint the things that cause your asthma flare-ups, you might be able to avoid them.
Foods and drinks that have compounds called sulfites -- like beer, wine, potatoes, dried fruit, and shrimp -- can make asthma worse for some people. So can some medicines, like aspirin and other pain relievers, or prescription drugs such as some common high blood pressure meds (beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors). If you take these drugs and think they're affecting your asthma, ask your doctor if there are other options you can try.
Strong odors also can cause asthma attacks, so it may help to steer clear of things like perfume, hair spray, talcum powder, and cigarette smoke. If you're a smoker, kick the habit -- ask your doctor how he can help you quit. If anyone else in your home lights up, ask them to quit, too. Even if they only smoke outside, they will still bring the smell and chemicals inside on their clothes and hair.
Some types of exercise can be harder with asthma, but that doesn't mean workouts aren’t good for you. Regular physical activity is crucial for your overall health, including your lungs. One recent study found that people with asthma who exercised for 30 minutes a day were two and a half times more likely to have control over their symptoms, compared with those who didn't exercise at all.
If intense running or training is too tough for you, try activities like hiking, biking, and yoga. Swimming can be a great sport for people with asthma, since the warm, moist air around most pools usually doesn’t trigger symptoms.
Kids with asthma need to exercise and play sports, too. Just be sure your child takes his medicine as prescribed and has a quick-relief inhaler nearby at all times.
Treat Other Conditions
Asthma can feel worse, and be more dangerous, when you're dealing with another health issue. Illnesses like colds and the flu, sinus infections, acid reflux disease, and sleep apnea make asthma harder to manage. Talk with your doctor about treating all of your symptoms, whether they’re linked directly to your asthma or not.
You may also have allergies that trigger your symptoms, like pet dander or pollen. If you can’t avoid them, you may be able to get allergy treatment called immunotherapy -- through shots or under-the-tongue tablets -- so that they don't bother you as much.
Even stress and anxiety can make asthma worse. If you're going through a hard time, ask your doctor about healthy ways to handle your emotions. To start, try to avoid stressful situations, get support from friends and family, and do relaxation exercises like meditation. If that doesn’t help, think about talking to a mental health professional.
Keep Your Home Clean
Every house has dust mites, or tiny bugs that live in furniture, bedding, and carpets. But if you or your child has asthma, breathing in these critters can make your symptoms worse. You can't get rid of them entirely, but you can greatly lower their numbers when you make a few changes in your home.
Wash your pillow every week in hot water -- at least 130 degrees F -- to kill mites. (You can also use cold or warm water with bleach.) Wash sheets and blankets every week, too, as well as any stuffed toys your child sleeps with. Use a dehumidifier or an air conditioner to keep the humidity in your home between 30% and 50%, and remove carpet from the bedroom.
Regular vacuuming can help keep dust mites at bay -- but if you have asthma, you may want to ask someone else to do it for you. A vacuum stirs up small particles that can irritate your lungs, so, if possible, stay away while it's happening and for a short time afterward. If you have to do your own cleaning, wear a dust mask and make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter or a microfilter bag.
Pay Attention to the Air
Cold, dry air can irritate the lungs. When you go outside on wintery days, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. If you cough or wheeze when you exercise in the cold, go to the gym or try an indoor workout class, instead.
During allergy season, keep track of pollen levels, and stay indoors when they are highest. You can keep tabs on your local air quality year-round at web sites like AirNow.gov. On days when ozone or pollution levels are unhealthy for people with lung diseases, it's smart to spend as little time outdoors as possible.