Tips to Prevent an Asthma Attack


Catherine Spader, RN

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Peak Expiratory Flow

If you have asthma, you know how frightening it is to struggle to breathe. You don’t have to live in fear.

You can prevent future asthma attacks and live an active life. Work closely with your doctor and follow your asthma action plan. This will help you monitor your symptoms, take your medication, and avoid your asthma triggers.

Monitor Your Asthma Symptoms

To help prevent acute asthma attacks, it’s important to regularly monitor your breathing, activity level, and symptoms. This helps you recognize warning signs of an asthma attack so you can act before symptoms become severe. Sometimes symptoms are subtle and sometimes they are more obvious.

Getting a diagnosis of asthma can be scary and intimidating. But with a little understanding and the right treatment plan, you can learn to control your asthma and keep it from slowing you down.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 19, 2016

2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

Common symptoms of an acute asthma attack include:

  • Cough

  • Wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound made with breathing

  • Chest tightness

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

To help monitor your breathing, your asthma care team can teach you how to use a peak flow meter. This small device measures the amount of air flowing out of your lungs as you blow into it. It is easy to use and it immediately provides valuable information. Peak flow meter readings can reveal when your breathing tubes are narrowing, an early and dependable sign that your asthma is not well controlled. If you use your peak flow meter regularly and properly, you can detect an oncoming asthma attack before you feel asthma symptoms.

Take Your Asthma Medications as Prescribed

Your asthma action plan will include personalized instructions for how to take your medications. There are two types of asthma medications that your doctor might prescribe:

  • Long-term control medications to prevent asthma symptoms

  • Quick-relief medications to stop sudden or acute asthma symptoms

Your doctor will customize the amount and timing of your medication based on your needs. If you still have symptoms after following your treatment plan, tell your doctor. Your medicine may need to be adjusted.

Identify Your Asthma Triggers

Asthma triggers are substances or environmental factors that cause your asthma symptoms. Your triggers can vary from season to season. Many people with asthma also have allergies. Allergies can trigger asthma attacks.

Your doctor may use a skin patch test to identify your specific allergies. This involves applying small amounts of common allergens to your skin to see what substances (allergens) trigger an allergic reaction and your asthma symptoms. A blood test called a radioallergosorbent test (RAST) can also help identify allergens.

Allergens that commonly trigger asthma symptoms include:

  • Animal dander from animals with fur or feathers

  • Cockroaches

  • Dust

  • Dust mites

  • Mold

  • Pollen

Other substances or situations that commonly trigger asthma symptoms, even if you don't have allergies, include:

  • Air pollution

  • Aspirin

  • Cold air

  • Exercise

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Respiratory infections such as a cold

  • Stress

  • Sulfites found in certain foods, such as beer, wine, and seafood

  • Tobacco smoke

Avoid Your Asthma Triggers

Once you know what triggers your asthma, you can take steps to minimize your exposure to them. Here are some tips for avoiding some of the more common asthma triggers:

  • Beware of air pollution: Stay in air-conditioned buildings when pollen counts or air pollution levels are high.

  • Limit cold air exposure: Dress warmly and cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when it is cold and windy.

  • Quit smoking: If you smoke, ask your doctors for ways to quit and avoid secondhand smoke.

  • Reduce stress: Take steps to manage your stress, such as practicing controlled breathing, getting a massage, and taking time to unwind.

  • Stay healthy: Try to get plenty of rest, eat a well-balanced diet, and wash your hands often to prevent respiratory infections.

  • Watch what you eat: Read food labels and avoid foods to which you are allergic.

Your home may be the source of a number of asthma triggers. Take steps to keep your home free of common allergens including:

  • Avoid dander: Do not allow pets with fur or feathers in your home.

  • Be cockroach-free: Keep food and garbage in closed containers and exterminate cockroaches. If a spray is used, leave the room until the odor goes away.

  • Control mold: Fix leaky pipes or appliances that can encourage mold growth. Ask someone else to clean mold with a cleaner that contains bleach.

  • Eliminate dust mites and dander: Limit carpeting, upholstery and draperies in your home. These materials can trap and hold dust, dust mites, and animal dander. Also, use dust-proof covers on your mattress and pillows and wash fabric items frequently in hot water.

  • Keep a clean house: Have someone vacuum your home once or twice a week. If you have to vacuum yourself, wear a facemask and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Also, have your heating vents cleaned regularly.

Don't let asthma slow you down. There are many proven ways to prevent asthma attacks. Take your medicine as recommended by your doctor. Identify your asthma triggers and take steps to avoid them. And talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.

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Was this helpful? (9)
Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jan 18, 2016

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. Asthma. KidsHealth from Nemours.
  2. Asthma. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
  3. Peak Flow Meter: Tips to Remember. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
  4. Asthma Action Plan. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  5. So You Have Asthma. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  6. Asthma Publications/Fact Sheets. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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