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What Is It?

An asthma action plan, or management plan, is a written plan that you develop with your doctor. It is designed to help you take control of your asthma, so it doesn't get in the way of playing sports, working out, going to parties, or doing whatever you want to do.

Following an asthma action plan will help you prevent flare-ups and deal with the ones you can't prevent. Knowing how to deal with flare-ups can keep you from having to visit the emergency department.

Your doctor may give you an action plan, or you can print out a sample one and ask him or her to help you complete it. Having a written, step-by-step plan means that you don't have to memorize everything your doctor said. You can keep a copy with you at all times or choose to memorize key parts of it.

Your asthma action plan will give you clear instructions so you can:

  • avoid triggers that worsen your asthma
  • notice early symptoms of a flare-up and treat them
  • take the right steps to deal with an asthma flare-up
  • know when to seek emergency care

Action Plans Are Individual

Asthma varies from person to person, so there isn't a one-size-fits-all asthma action plan. Each plan will be somewhat different, but a key part of any action plan will detail what you need to do during a flare-up. It will tell you when you need to take your rescue medication, how much to take in different circumstances, and when it's time to call the doctor or go to the emergency department for care.

Many action plans use the "zone system," which is based on the colors of a traffic light. This is the same color system used on peak flow meters. Action plans use symptoms, peak flow readings, or both to help you determine what zone your asthma is in:

  • The green zone, or safety zone, explains how to manage your asthma on a daily basis, when you're feeling good.
  • The yellow zone, or caution zone, explains how to look for signs that your asthma is getting worse. It also instructs you on which medications to add to bring your asthma back under control.
  • The red zone, or danger zone, explains what to do when a flare-up is severe.

The color system makes it easy to figure out which instructions apply to you based on your peak flow meter reading. Your "personal best" peak flow reading is an important measurement to include on the plan, so you'll have something to compare the new numbers to.

In addition to information about flare-ups, your action plan may include:

  • emergency phone numbers and locations of emergency care facilities
  • a list of triggers and how to avoid them
  • steps to take before exercising
  • a list of early flare-up symptoms to watch for and what to do when they occur
  • the names and dosages of all your medications and when and how they should be used

Understand Your Plan

For your asthma action plan to be effective, you have to follow it, even when you are feeling OK. That means you need to understand it and it needs to fit realistically into your life. For example, if exercise is one of your triggers, you need to talk with your doctor about your sport and workouts.

Review your plan with your doctor and make sure you understand it. Ask questions. Talk with your doctor about ideas you have for making the plan work better for you. For example, your doctor might be willing to adjust the time of day that you take your asthma medicine to better fit into your schedule.

And if you've been following an asthma action plan but it doesn't seem to be controlling your asthma as well as it used to, let your doctor know. He or she may need to make some adjustments in your medication or other aspects of your plan. Also tell your doctor if you don't seem to need your rescue medication as much any more. If your asthma is well controlled, your doctor might reduce the amount of controller medicine you're taking.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

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Related Resources:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.
American Lung Association
The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association 61 Broadway, 6th Floor NY, NY 10006 (212) 315-8700