Managing asthma in adults

Asthma is a long-term condition, but for most people, it shouldn't get in the way of enjoying life.

If you're looking for information for a child, please visit our section on managing your child's asthma.

Nowadays, asthma treatment and self-management is aimed at keeping you symptom-free, while taking the least amount of medicines necessary. Around five per cent of people with asthma have severe asthma, which can be harder to manage. But your hospital consultant will work with you to find the treatments that work best to help keep your asthma under control. If you’ve been diagnosed with severe asthma, you need to do some specific things to look after it, so visit our page on how to manage severe asthma.

The good news is you have the power to make a very big difference to how well you feel, from taking your preventer medicines every day as prescribed to making sure you go for a regular asthma review. Don’t worry – once you get into a routine, managing your asthma will become second nature. Here are some of the most important steps that will help you manage your asthma so that it doesn’t stop you doing the things you want to do.

Use a written asthma action plan

This is a plan for managing your asthma that you fill in with your GP or asthma nurse. It includes all the information you need to look after your asthma well, so you’ll have fewer symptoms and significantly cut your risk of an asthma attack. If you use a written asthma action plan, you’re four times less likely to have an asthma attack that needs emergency hospital treatment. A written asthma action plan is an important part of asthma management, and the asthma guidelines doctors follow recommend that everyone with asthma has one. So if you haven’t got an action plan yet download one and make an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse for a review.

Your asthma action plan contains all the information you need in one place, including:

  • the number of puffs of preventer inhaler you need to take and how often (usually twice a day)
  • the things that make your asthma worse (your triggers)
  • the symptoms that mean you need your reliever inhaler (usually blue)
  • the signs and symptoms that mean you need to see your GP or asthma nurse
  • the signs and symptoms that you are having an asthma attack, plus what you need to do (including when you need to call 999).

Take your medicine as prescribed

Although there’s no cure for asthma, there are now lots of incredibly effective medicines that may help keep you free of symptoms and can cut your risk of asthma attacks. You and your GP, asthma nurse and/or consultant can work together using these medicines to make sure your asthma is as well managed as possible, on the lowest dose necessary. The aim is for you to stay symptom-free so that your condition doesn’t stop you from getting on with life. If you've been given a preventer inhaler, take it every day as prescribed - usually morning and evening.

Even if you have no asthma symptoms at all, you still need to take your preventer inhaler every day to help you stay well, because the protective effect builds up over time and then needs to be kept at a certain level to keep symptoms under control. Make sure you’re in a good routine with your inhaler. Try keeping it in the bathroom and using it when you brush your teeth morning and night, so you don’t forget.

Got five minutes? Tell us about your preventer inhaler routine in our quick survey.

Go for regular asthma reviews

Most adults should have an asthma review with their GP or asthma nurse at least once a year. This is a good opportunity to check you’re taking the using your inhalers correctly, and taking the right medicines at the right doses – remember, your dose may be lowered if your asthma’s well managed. The review is also a chance to discuss your triggers, lifestyle and any other factors that may affect your asthma, such as hay fever. And if you’re having any problems with managing your asthma – such as forgetting to use your preventer inhaler – you can bring that up in your review too.

Take your written asthma action plan to your asthma review so you can go through it and update it with your GP or asthma nurse.

Know your triggers

A trigger is anything that sets off your asthma symptoms or makes symptoms worse. It’s not usually possible to avoid all triggers but it’s still important to be aware of what might make your asthma worse. What you can do is cut your risk of developing asthma symptoms when you come into contact with your triggers. The most important way to reduce the risk of your triggers affecting you is to take your preventer medicine as prescribed. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse about the best ways to manage your triggers.

Stop smoking

If you have asthma and you smoke, or you spend time with anyone who’s smoking, you’re at greater risk of having asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack. So if you smoke, it’s important to quit. You also need to avoid being around cigarette smoke as much as you can. The idea of stopping smoking might feel very challenging, but don’t worry – there’s lots of support available to help you, and remember giving up smoking has lots of other benefits for your health too. Find out more on our page about smoking and asthma.

Spot symptoms

Make sure you can tell whether your asthma’s getting worse so you can quickly get help from your GP or asthma nurse and lower your risk of having an asthma attack. For most people, symptoms rarely just come "out of the blue". They build up gradually over a few days, and often rapidly increase two or three days before an asthma attack. Spotting symptoms early gives you a vital window of opportunity to take steps to prevent a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

You’ll feel much more confident if you know what to be aware of. Your written asthma action plan will help you identify any worsening symptoms but in general, the following can be signs your asthma isn’t well managed:

  • your symptoms are coming back – including wheeze, tightness in your chest, cough, feeling breathless
  • you’re waking up at night
  • your symptoms are interfering with day-to-day activities, such as work and exercise
  • you’re using your reliever inhaler more often
  • your peak flow has dropped.

It’s also important you’re aware of asthma attack symptoms so you know what to look out for – read our page on asthma attacks.

Check your risk

Poorly managed asthma can mean you’re more likely to have an asthma attack, especially if you come into contact with one of your triggers. The good news is that some simple steps can make a big difference and help you manage your asthma better. For example, getting your inhaler technique checked by your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist can help ensure you’re getting the benefits of your medicine – you may be surprised to learn lots of people don’t use their inhalers properly.

You can find out whether you need to be taking better care of your asthma by taking our quick and easy asthma attack risk checker. At the end of the test, you’ll get tailored advice on what you can do to manage your asthma better.

Ask for support or advice

If you have any questions about how you can manage your asthma better, speak to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist. You can also call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm) and speak to our asthma nurse specialists.

Last updated November 2016

Next review due November 2019