Asthma - what to ask the doctor - adult
What to ask your doctor about asthma - adult
Asthma is a problem with the lung airways. A person with asthma may not feel symptoms all the time. But when an asthma attack happens, it becomes hard for air to pass through your airways. The symptoms are usually:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
In rare cases, asthma causes chest pain.
Below are some questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your asthma.
Breathing is something we do without even thinking about it. But some people have a hard time breathing easily. They wheeze, cough, and just can't get enough air into their lungs. Let's talk about asthma. Normally when you breathe, oxygen-rich air enters your nose and mouth and travels to the airways in your lungs. But when you have an asthma attack, the muscles in your airways tighten. Your airways swell up and get narrower. It's like pressing on a straw when you're trying to drink through it. The more you press, the less of your drink can squeeze up through the straw. In the same way, less air can squeeze through tight airways into your lungs. So, what causes asthma? People with asthma have different triggers. Some people are sensitive to pet hair or dander. Others find that dust, pollen, smoke, or chemicals make them wheeze. You may have trouble breathing when you're under stress or working out at the gym. Often people with asthma have allergies that trigger their attacks. Others have a parent or other relative who has allergies. You may ask, how can you know for sure that you have asthma? During an asthma attack, you'll have trouble breathing. You may cough or wheeze as you try to draw air into your lungs. If you're having a severe attack, your lips and face may turn blue and you'll have a hard time getting any air. That's when it's time to call for emergency help. Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope, and may do other tests to check your blood and lung function. To find out what's triggering your asthma, you may need to be tested for allergies to mold, pollen, pet dander, or other substances. To measure the strength of air flowing out of your lungs, you'll blow into a device called a peak flow meter. You can also use a peak flow meter to make sure you're keeping your asthma under control. Different medicines are used to prevent and treat asthma. Control drugs help you avoid asthma attacks, but you need to take them every day for them to work. You breathe in control drugs like Flovent, Singulair, and Pulmicort through an inhaler. If you're having an asthma attack, you can take a quick-relief drug to control your wheezing. Examples of quick-relief drugs include short-acting inhaled drugs and steroid medicines that you take by mouth. When you have asthma, you need to be prepared. Know your asthma triggers and try to avoid them. Carry an inhaler with you in case you have an asthma attack. If you ever have an attack that's so severe you can't breathe, call 911 or get emergency medical help.
Am I taking my asthma medicines the right way?
- What medicines should I be taking every day (called controller drugs)? What should I do if I miss a day or a dose?
- How should I adjust my medicines if I feel better or worse?
- Which medicines should I take when I am short of breath (called rescue or quick-relief drugs)? Is it OK to use these rescue drugs every day?
- What are the side effects of my medicines? For what side effects should I call the doctor?
- Am I using my inhaler the right way? Should I be using a spacer? How will I know when my inhalers are getting empty?
- When should I use my nebulizer instead of my inhaler?
What are some signs that my asthma is getting worse and that I need to call the doctor? What should I do when I feel short of breath? Should I be using a peak flow meter?
What shots or vaccinations do I need?
What will make my asthma worse?
- How can I prevent things that can make my asthma worse?
- How can I prevent getting a lung infection?
- How can I get help quitting smoking?
- How do I find out when smog or pollution is worse?
What sort of changes should I make around my home?
- Can I have a pet? In the house or outside? How about in the bedroom?
- Is it OK for me to clean and vacuum in the house?
- Is it OK to have carpets in the house?
- What type of furniture is best to have?
- How do I get rid of dust and mold in the house? Do I need to cover my bed or pillows?
- How do I know if I have cockroaches in my home? How do I get rid of them?
- Can I have a fire in my fireplace or wood-burning stove?
What sort of changes do I need to make at work?
What exercises are better for me to do?
- Are there times when I should avoid being outside and exercising?
- Are there things that I can do before I start exercising?
- Would I benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation?
Do I need tests or treatments for allergies? What should I do when I know I am going to be around something that triggers my asthma?
What type of planning do I need to do before I travel?
- What medicines should I bring?
- Whom should I call if my asthma gets worse?
- Should I have extra medicines in case something happens?
Am I at risk for COVID-19? What should I do to protect myself?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Asthma.
Holgate ST, Sly PD. Asthma pathogenesis. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, Broide DH, et al. eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2020: chap 47.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Asthma.
Last reviewed on: 11/26/2022
Reviewed by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.