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Managing Asthma at Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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Use these strategies to control asthma symptoms and stay well

When you have asthma, the thought of a new respiratory virus sweeping the neighborhood — and the entire country — can feel scary. The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) may cause more serious symptoms in anyone with an underlying medical condition, including asthma. This makes it even more important for you to stay as healthy as possible right now.

By practicing good asthma management today, you can develop even better skills for keeping your asthma controlled in the future. Start by developing or updating your Asthma Action Care Plan (AACP).

What is an Asthma Action Care Plan?

This document captures key information, like your doctor’s name and contact number, and provides sections that allow you to quickly evaluate your symptoms and determine the appropriate steps to take.

Every person with asthma should have an AACP posted in an easily accessible place, such as on the refrigerator.

Download the Asthma Action Care Plan >

What do the Asthma Action Care Plan zones mean?

The AACP contains 3 zones:

  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Red

As you assess your symptoms, compare them to the zones on the chart. The information printed in each zone will tell you how to respond to the symptoms you’re having.

Each zone provides a place for you to write in:

  • Asthma medications you take
  • When to take them
  • How much you should take 

Keep these sections updated at all times, in case a loved one needs to provide this information to emergency medical response personnel.

Your asthma doctor or nurse will help you fill in the yellow and red zone sections related to rescue medications to take, and when to take them.

How do I fill in the green zone on the AACP?

The green zone represents your “baseline.” This is your status when you’re asymptomatic. The green zone provides a place to write down your best peak flow, so you can compare subsequent measurements to your best reading.

The green zone also provides instructions for what medicines to take — and when — on a daily basis, when you’re not experiencing symptoms.

How do I use the yellow and red zones on the AACP?

  • The yellow zone describes symptoms you may experience during an asthma flare, which may be manageable on your own.
  • The red zone indicates more serious symptoms that signal an asthma attack that requires medical intervention.

When you experience common asthma symptoms like coughing, increased sputum production, wheezing or shortness of breath with exercise, compare the severity of your symptoms with the ones listed in the yellow and red zones in order to determine what steps you should take next.

If your symptoms align with the ones listed in the yellow zone:

  • Follow the steps labeled 1 and 2.
  • First, use a rescue inhaler as instructed.
  • If your symptoms do not return to the green zone, follow the instructions in Step 2.

If your symptoms align with those in the red zone:

  • Then you’re experiencing an asthma emergency and should follow the steps listed to take medications and call your doctor or get an ambulance to transport you to the hospital.
  • Take your AACP with you so emergency responders or an emergency room doctor will know the exact steps and medicines you’ve already taken.

Should I stop using my corticosteroid medications? Could they make the coronavirus worse, if I get infected?

You should not stop using your corticosteroid medications, whether pills or inhalers. These important medications reduce inflammation in your bronchi (the main passageway into the lungs) and allow air to pass freely in and out of your lungs.

If you have concerns about taking corticosteroid medications, reach out to your asthma care team at Temple Health.

Should I wear a mask when I go out in public?

The CDC recently revised its recommendation on people wearing masks in public. The agency now advises that everyone wear a cloth face covering when they’re circulating in public spaces.

The CDC emphasizes you should wear only a cloth face covering, not a medical mask, in order to preserve critical medical supplies for healthcare workers. A cloth face covering can be:

  • Bandanna
  • Custom made, medical-style cloth mask
  • Any other type of face covering made from household materials like towels or pieces of bed sheets

Additionally, if you have asthma you also might consider wearing a mask or face covering indoors when performing household tasks that may bring on an asthma flare, such as vacuuming or dusting.

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever plus coughing or shortness of breath, you should call your doctor right away for instructions on how to proceed. If you must travel in public to be tested for COVID-19 or to receive medical care while exhibiting signs of the coronavirus, be sure to wear a face mask to avoid spreading the virus.

What else can I do to manage my asthma better during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Keep your home scrupulously clean. Review the back page of your AACP, which lists common asthma triggers and how to control them.

Make sure you have a good supply of all your medications, plus extra nebulizer components, such as filters and tubing, if you use one. Keep all of your asthma supplies in a single, easy-to-access location so you can quickly find them when you need them.

Manage your stress. Stress and anxiety can trigger asthma flares, and the coronavirus pandemic may heighten your feelings of anxiety. Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, exercising as tolerable, listening to calming music or deep breathing to avoid experiencing an asthma flare due to anxiety.

Living with asthma can be challenging under the best of circumstances. You can take control of your symptoms by:

  • Developing an AACP
  • Avoiding your triggers
  • Managing your stress levels

These are all good asthma care habits that you can carry forward, long after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

If you have questions or concerns about your AACP, don’t hesitate to reach out to your care team at Temple Health. We’re here to help you live as well as possible with asthma.

Download the Asthma Action Care Plan >

Susan Estrella-Eades, MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC

Susan Estrella-Eades is a pulmonary nurse practitioner at the Temple Lung Center.

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