When you have asthma, your symptoms can vary from time to time and situation to situation. It can be difficult to know when changes in your symptoms are normal, and when they might mean trouble.
That's why it is recommended that you work with your doctor to create a written asthma action plan. You can find an example of one here. Print it out and take it with you to your next doctor's appointment. Together, you can modify it as needed so that you always know when a change in your symptoms means something serious.
The Green Zone: Total Asthma Control
When you're in the green zone, you have no symptoms. You're able to participate in normal activities, including strenuous physical activity. You are able to attend school or work and are sleeping through the night without asthma symptoms. You are not needed to use your reliever medication 4 or more times a week for asthma symptoms (except prior to one dose before exercise).
Being in the green zone means your asthma is totally-controlled. Continue to take your controller medications as directed by your doctor or discuss decreasing the dose if you are in the green zone more than 3 months. Do not stop your controller medication without first talking to your doctor.
The Yellow Zone: Warning, loss of control
If you find that any of the following occur, you are in the yellow zone:
- You have difficulty asthma symptoms during regular activities or exercise.
- Your asthma symptoms begin to disturb your sleep.
- You get a cold or other chest infection.
- You need to take your reliever medication 4 or more times a week.
- You have missed work or school due to asthma symptoms.
If you are in the yellow zone, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will modify your medications.
The Red Zone: Emergency
Most asthma attacks are not sudden, and can be treated while in the yellow zone. However, if your are experiencing the following severe asthma symptoms, you are in the red zone and you need to get medical attention immediately. Make sure you recognize red zone signs:
- Excessive coughing
- Excessive wheezing
- Extreme tightness in the chest
- Extremely laboured breathing
- Gasping voice
- Pale or blue lips or fingernails
- Anxiety or fear
- Decreased activity level
- Reliever medication does not seem to be working to relieve the symptoms
If any of the above symptoms are present, call your local emergency service immediately. Have the following written down and kept close at hand in case of an emergency:
- Your doctor's name and phone number
- local emergency service phone number
- local ambulance service phone number
If you have to go to the emergency department of a hospital, doctors and healthcare professionals will treat you by:
- Giving you oral or intravenous corticosteroids
- Giving you inhaled reliever medication (bronchodilator) and oxygen
- Assess your progress with spirometry, peak flow monitoring and oximetry
Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry. To delay getting medical help when you're in the red zone can mean unnecessary suffering, even death. Always follow your action plan and your doctor's advice about how best to manage your asthma.