You’ll breathe easier with an asthma action plan

Management information can be critical tool for caregivers

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways. The condition restricts airflow and makes breathing difficult. Because these breathing problems may come on suddenly during a flare-up or an attack, it helps to have an asthma action plan. This plan keeps you and others informed about the strategies you've worked out with your doctor for asthma management.

About the asthma action plan

You can get the form for an asthma action plan at your doctor's office or by visiting the website of the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov, and searching "tools for asthma control."

As noted in the Harvard Special Health Report Controlling Your Allergies, the asthma action plan will likely include

  • general information, such as your name and contact information for your health care provider
  • a list of your asthma triggers and how to avoid them
  • a list of routine asthma symptoms such as coughing wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath, as well as what you should do if these symptoms occur
  • the name and dose of the daily asthma medication that you need to use even when you don't have asthma symptoms
  • the name and dose of the quick-acting or rescue medication to use when you are having an asthma attack
  • steps you need to take in an emergency situation, including emergency contact information and where to get emergency asthma treatment.

The action stages

The asthma action plan is typically divided into three action stages—a green zone, yellow zone, and red zone. The stages help make asthma management simple and easy to understand, especially when you need important information quickly.

Here's what each zone indicates:

  • Green zone: Doing well. No cough, wheeze, chest tightness or shortness of breath; can do all usual activities. Take prescribed long-term control medicine such as inhaled corticosteroids.
  • Yellow zone: Getting worse. Cough, wheeze, chest tightness, or shortness of breath; waking at night; can do some, but not all, usual activities. Add quick-relief medicine.
  • Red zone: Medical alert! Very short of breath; quick relief medicines don't help; cannot do usual activities; symptoms no better after 24 hours in yellow zone. Get medical help now.

Using the asthma action plan

Once you and your doctor have developed your personal asthma action plan, make sure your caregivers or potential caregivers have access to it. For example, if your child has asthma, give a copy of the asthma action plan to the school nurse; if you have asthma, keep a copy of the plan with you in case of emergency.

You should also familiarize yourself with the information, so you'll feel more confident about your asthma management.

By Heidi Godman
Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter