Why You Need to Track Your Asthma Symptoms

One of the best ways to keep your asthma under control is to carefully track your symptoms. This will help you to know if your condition is improving or getting worse. It will also give you and your doctor valuable information about what has helped -- and what you should avoid.

If your child has asthma, pay close attention to his day-to-day symptoms. A daily log of them may even help you avoid a trip to the emergency room.

Don’t know where to start? There are plenty of tools and guidelines that make it easy. Your doctor will go over these with you as part of your asthma action plan or your child's plan. Here’s a glimpse of some of the basics.

Keep a Symptom Diary

To understand how well a treatment plan is working, write down every day what medicines and how much of them you or your child took, and whether you had any coughing, wheezing, or breathing problems.

Record any problems you have at night, too. It may help to divide each day in your diary up into day and night sections, so you don't leave out important details.

You can keep your asthma diary in a notebook, or find online templates to fill out. You can also download apps for your smartphone that include asthma diaries or symptom trackers. These apps may not have been created or reviewed by doctors, though, and their advice shouldn't take the place of your medical care.

Use a Peak Flow Meter

Your doctor may ask you or your child to use this small hand-held device that measures how well your lungs push air out. You blow into the device, and it gives you a score, called your peak flow number. Write this number down after every test, and take that record with you to each doctor's appointment.

If you’ve just been diagnosed with asthma, you’ll use this device to find your "personal best" peak flow number -- the highest reading you get over 2 to 3 weeks. Use this number as a benchmark for future peak flow tests: If your scores fall too far below your personal best, your doctor may tell you to take quick-relief medicine or to get medical help.

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Your doctor can also help you find your green, yellow, and red zones for future readings. When you're in your green zone, you have no symptoms and can do your regular activities without any trouble breathing. Yellow means you may be having a flare-up with coughing, wheezing, have chest tightness, or feel short of breath. The red zone signals a severe asthma flare or a medical emergency.

A peak flow meter can also help you understand how well your medicines work. If you start to have symptoms and you use an inhaler or take other medicine, you can test your peak flow again to see how much it improves.

Drops in peak flow readings can sometimes predict an asthma flare-up 2 to 3 days before it happens. That gives you time to adjust your medicine to prevent it. It can also be a good tool for parents whose children aren't old enough to explain what their symptoms feel like.  

Look for Early Warning Signs

Parents of young children with asthma should also watch for small changes in how their kids look, act, and breathe. Sometimes children won't realize they're having breathing trouble -- they may say that they're just "feeling funny" in some way. This can happen hours or even a day before major symptoms like wheezing and coughing start.

Not everyone will show these early warning signs, and they can be different for every child. But if you learn to tune in and recognize these tiny hints, you may be better prepared for what might be coming. Older children and even adults may start to sense these subtle changes in themselves before an attack comes on.

Aim for Well-Controlled Symptoms

Doctors call your asthma well controlled if you have symptoms no more than 2 days a week, your symptoms don't wake you up more than 1 or 2 nights a month, and you can do everything you usually do.

Watch for signs that your asthma might be getting worse -- your symptoms start to happen more often, get more severe, or start to wake you up at night. You may also notice that you're limiting your normal activities, or you’re missing work (or your child is missing school) because of symptoms.

Talk to your doctor if you have to take quick-relief medicines more than twice a week, if you have more than one asthma attack a year that requires corticosteroid pills, or if your peak flow drops below 80% of your personal-best number. She may want to change your asthma action plan so you can get better control of your symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on October 17, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Zemek, R. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, February 2008.

KidsHealth.org.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "How Is Asthma Treated and Controlled?"

National Jewish Health: "General Tools - Peak Flow Meter."

Cleveland Clinic: "Asthma Management."

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