“Asthma is the most treatable of all chronic diseases known to mankind,” says Richard F. Lockey, MD, director, Division of Allergy & Immunology at the University of South Florida College of Medicine. “Most people with asthma can lead normal lives.”
Medication regimens, if precisely followed, generally keep asthma under control. So, if you have asthma, the most important rule is to take your medications exactly as prescribed and to periodically get your regimen fine-tuned by your physician.
Here’s an asthma action plan to prevent your next attack:
Soak up some sunshine
Or take vitamin D supplements. Both are ways to boost your levels of vitamin D. “Some research has linked a vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of asthma attacks, though the evidence is far from consistent,” says Rachel Taliercio, DO, who’s on the staff of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute.
A study found that, among over 21,000 adults diagnosed with asthma, those with lower blood levels of vitamin D were more likely than others to experience an attack over 12 months.
“I think that if a patient has had good treatment for asthma and is still not controlled, maybe he should be checked for his vitamin D levels before adding on more medications,” the lead author, Ronit Confino-Cohen, MD, told the New York Times. “Maybe supplementation would do the job.”
Don’t drip-dry on your bath mat
For most adults with asthma, the likeliest trigger is a substance that causes an allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to mold, anything that increases the build-up of this fungus in your home can make you more likely to experience a flare-up.
Molds often arise in damp environments, such as on a wet bath mat, in your basement, and near an undetected leak under the kitchen sink. Cut down on mold in your home by using a dehumidifier, repairing plumbing leaks promptly, grading the landscape outside your home to move water away from the structure, and maintaining gutters and downspouts, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology suggests.
Treat heartburn seriously
People with asthma often have several other conditions at the same time, including gastroesophageal reflux disease. (Read about other silent signs of asthma here.) Patients with GERD have a higher prevalence of asthma, and acid reflux—the backup of stomach acid into the esophagus—can cause airways to go into spasm and tighten.
“Aggressive anti-reflux therapy in patients with asthma and GERD results in improvements in asthma outcome in as many as 70 percent to 80 percent of patients treated,” states a report in the American Journal of Medicine.
The most common treatment for recurrent GERD is a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPI), which includes Prevacid and Prilosec. PPIs have been connected to osteoporosis (bone-thinning), kidney problems and, most recently, dementia.
You also might confer with your doctor about trying natural heartburn remedies first. Andrew Weil, MD, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, suggests taking slippery elm bark, which is widely available in places like Vitamin Shoppe and Amazon.
Take precautions when you exercise
It’s called exercise induced asthma: Up to 90 percent of asthmatics have experienced a flare-up during exercise or within five to 10 minutes of stopping a session, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
Many people undergo asthma attacks only while exercising. Coughing is by far the most common symptom but other possibilities are wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. “To prevent flare-ups, some patients bring their inhalers with them while they exercise or they may pre-treat themselves with Albuterol, a short-acting drug that opens up airways,” says Dr. Taliercio.
To reduce your odds of an attack, the AAFA suggests warming up for six to 10 minutes before you start a vigorous workout. Or switch to activities that don’t cause you to breathe fast, such as walking, playing softball, and doing yoga. Practicing yoga consistently may, in fact, reduce the severity of your asthma, suggests some older research.