Susan Lennon MSW, LCSW Content Strategist
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Asthma: Plan for Attacks
USA Weekend Magazine, March 26, 2006
by Susan T. Lennon

About 20 million Americans have asthma, including six million children. Combined, they lose 37.3 million work and school days annually – and 5,000 people die. , “But, there’s good news,” says Christopher H. Fanta, M.D. co-author of The Harvard Medical School Guide To Taking Control Of Asthma (Free Press, January 2004). “Asthma education empowers patients to gain control.”

How? By implementing a written Asthma Action Plan, like this “traffic light” model:, and following these steps to prevent and manage attacks:

  1. Know and avoid your asthma triggers. Common triggers are: allergens (dust, mold, pet dander), irritants (cigarette smoke), viral infections (colds), foods (shellfish, nuts), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  2. Assess severity of an attack. Use a “peak flow meter,” to measure lung function – how bad is the attack, and is it getting better?
  3. Use a quick reliever.  Two to four puffs from a bronchodilator (e.g., albuterol) will relax the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes.
  4. Suppress inflammation. Inhaled steroids (e.g. clomethasone), which reduce mucus and swelling in the walls of the bronchial tubes, may be sufficient for a mild attack; if severe, take a steroid pill (e.g., prednisone).
  5. Know when to call for help.  There’s a delicate balance between self-care and thinking you need to set up your own emergency room. “Don’t stay home beyond the point of safety,” advises Fanta, “if these steps aren’t working, get immediate help.”

If you or your children have asthma, remember that even when there are no symptoms, vulnerability to triggers is still there. Fortunately, for the vast majority of sufferers, asthma medicines work very well, so Fanta recommends taking them on a preventive basis.

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