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Your Asthma Health Care Team

You don't have to go it alone with asthma. An entire team of health care experts is on hand to help people with asthma manage their symptoms and continue to live normal, active lives.

Asthma causes the airways to become inflamed and easily irritated so that they react strongly to things to which you are allergic, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). When your airways react, they become narrower; less air reaches your lungs and breathing becomes difficult. Sometimes this reaction is life-threatening. Asthma can't be cured, but for most people, the symptoms can be controlled and they can live an active life. Good communication with your health care team becomes critical because managing and treating asthma is a life-long effort and can be a complex, ongoing challenge.

"The severity of asthma can vary widely from one day to the next," explains Stanley Goldstein, M.D., F.A.A.A.A.I., a pulmonary specialist in Rockville Centre, New York. "You may have multiple disease factors and depend on multiple medical devices, and have to keep adjusting your medications on a daily or hourly basis."

The team members

According to Dr. Goldstein, your asthma health care team is likely to include:

  • Your asthma care provider. Whether a medical doctor or a nurse practitioner, says Dr. Goldstein, "this person should be well-versed in asthma care and have a clear understanding of the National Institutes of Health treatment guidelines." He or she will diagnose your illness, prescribe treatments and work with you to set up a treatment plan to monitor your symptoms, prevent asthma attacks and treat attacks when they occur. Your provider will refer you to other professionals, as needed.

  • A nurse educator or asthma educator. You may be referred to a trained educator who will teach you everything you need to know about dealing with your chronic health condition. The educator may show you how to use your medication inhaler and peak flow meter, and make entries in a daily asthma journal, for example.

  • Your pharmacist. This person also can tell you how to use inhaler medicines, peak flow meters or other equipment, and explain what you need to know about your medications including how to take them and possible side effects.

  • An allergist. If you have allergic asthma, an allergist can help you pinpoint the things in your environment that trigger your allergic reactions and help you manage symptoms.

  • Your family. Family members can support you in many ways-for example, by helping you avoid asthma triggers and reminding you to refill prescriptions. Someone close to you also should be trained to respond to a severe asthma attack.

The patient as communicator

Let's not forget the team's star player: you, the patient. It's only through your contributions that the entire team will succeed.

"Communicating with everyone on your team is a necessity, and it's the central focus of your treatment," says Dr. Goldstein.

When communicating, be honest. Let other team members know about any questions, fears or worries you have related to your treatment. For example, are you concerned about medication side effects? Are you embarrassed that you still don't know how to measure your lung function with the peak flow meter? Are asthma symptoms keeping you from sleeping well at night, or causing you to miss school, work or other activities? Your openness will allow health care providers to adjust your treatment in the best ways possible.

Let your primary care provider act as "coach." Your primary doctor already knows your medical history and overall health. Let him or her know what any of the other team members advise or prescribe. In this way, one central person will be overseeing all your health-management details.

Do your homework

Learn as much as you can about asthma. The more you know about it and how to monitor and manage it, the better you'll be at asking good questions and following your treatment plan. Be sure to consult reliable resources.

"People who are educated and involved in their own treatment are able to do a better job of keeping the disease under control," says Dr. Goldstein.

Be actively involved in your care. "If you're not focused appropriately on your care, then why should anyone else be?" Dr. Goldstein asks. Your dedication and involvement will set a high standard for the other team members.

Have a say in your treatment goals. Your health care provider should get your input in creating a detailed, written asthma action plan. This plan also will include instructions on how to take your medications, how to use the peak flow meter, what to do if your symptoms worsen and other daily self-management activities.

Keep a log

Refer to a daily asthma diary. If you have moderate to severe asthma, your health care provider may advise you to keep a diary to log your symptoms, medication use and peak flow readings, as well as any changes in your condition and adjustments you make to your environment. Bring this diary with you to each appointment.

"Keeping a diary can seem very tedious amid a busy lifestyle," says Dr. Goldstein. "But when you keep track of this information, your disease will be much easier to control-that's the bottom line."

Keep your family informed. Explain your asthma action plan to everyone in your family and discuss ways they can support you. For example, they can help keep allergens out of the house. Ask one person, in particular, to be your asthma partner-to join you at one of your medical appointments, learn about your condition and treatment, and be ready to help you in case of a severe asthma attack.