Coping With a Chronic Asthma Condition

Asthma Is a Chronic Illness, Here Are Strategies to Cope

Close-up of a woman using an asthma inhaler. Credit: Eric Audras / Getty Images

Coping with asthma, a chronic illness, can be difficult. Unlike a headache, the flu, or a broken bone, a chronic illness never goes away. A chronic illness like asthma can cause pain, fatigue, stress and disruptions in daily life. It can change a positive self-image to a negative one and lead to withdrawal from family, friends and activities.

A chronic illness can also affect one's ability to cope at school or at work.

In extreme cases, physical limitations – such as the shortness of breath that frequently accompanies asthma – may make it necessary to change work, school or recreational activities. A change in working conditions, as well as the expenses of having a chronic illness, from costly insurance coverage to out-of-pocket medical expenses, may also lead to financial difficulties.

Despite the challenges of coping with chronic asthma, however, many people are able to manage their asthma symptoms, prevent complications and enjoy their everyday routines and activities.

6 Ways to Manage Your Chronic Asthma Condition

No one should be in denial about having asthma. Ignoring the condition can mean living with uncontrolled symptoms, frequent asthma attacks and complications. Controlling asthma may reduce the need for certain asthma medications. The following steps can be taken to help you cope better with living with asthma:

  1. Work with a doctor to achieve the best control of the illness. From medications to lifestyle and environmental changes, your doctor will work with you to monitor and treat your condition. Follow the asthma self-management plan provided by the doctor.
  2. Use asthma medications correctly. This includes taking your medication on schedule and using inhalers correctly. Ask for instructions, a demonstration and feedback on your technique before taking your inhaler home. In a 2014 study published by Nature Partner Journal of Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, researchers found that more than 80% of adults demonstrated poor technique when using an inhaler.
  1. Be aware of the symptoms of an asthma attack. Symptoms may include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Know when to reach for that quick-relief medicine prescribed by your doctor.
  2. Use a peak flow meter to monitor your asthma. How quickly and how much air you can blow out of your lungs is a sign of how well you are controlling your asthma. A peak flow meter lets you measure the amount of air you can blow out.
  3. Control allergens at home. Certain environmental triggers – such as tobacco smoke and furry pets – can aggravate asthma. Follow a doctor's advice to create an asthma-friendly home.
  4. Get regular exercise. If asthma attacks are limiting physical activity, ask a doctor for suggestions on how to incorporate appropriate exercise into daily routines. Research has shown that people with lung diseases benefit both physically and emotionally from physical activity.

What Other Strategies Should People With Asthma Use to Cope?

Here are some more asthma coping tips that may help you live life to the fullest.

  • Be realistic, but be creative. Living with a chronic illness doesn't mean that hopes and dreams have to change, but the way they are achieved will probably be different. Put creative energies into finding a way to reach your goals.
  • Learn to cope with the stress of having a chronic illness. Living with chronic asthma may lead to feelings of uncertainty, frustration, anger and depression. These feelings can also affect family and friends. Some of the signals of stress include different sleep patterns – such as sleeping more or less than usual – in addition to fatigue, body aches, pain, anxiety, irritability, tension and headaches. Seek help by joining a support group to share experiences with others who also are living with this chronic illness. Individual counseling may also help. Anti-depressant medications are another option for those who are depressed.
  • Adopt a problem-solving attitude and control negative thoughts. Don't dwell on the past before the asthma diagnosis. See the condition as a challenge to be met, not as a problem that can't be solved.
  • Become an expert on the illness. The more you and your loved ones know about asthma, the easier it is to manage. Ask a doctor to provide as much information as he or she can, including trusted sources on the Internet. Take time to explore this site too, including the section for people who are newly diagnosed with asthma.
  • Educate family members and friends. The more loved ones understand about asthma, the more support they will be able to offer. They will also be alert to the warning signals of an asthma attack. Offer books or pamphlets for your loved ones to read, or ask them to come to your visits to the doctor with you so that they can ask their own questions.
  • Learn to manage daily activities. Meeting the challenges of a chronic illness can be tiring. Avoid doing too much or too little to help control the asthma.
  • Slow down. Use relaxation and meditation to fully focus on being in the present, because stress and anxiety are among the greatest triggers that can cause an asthma attack. Relaxation techniques may also help prevent asthma attacks.

Finally, don't ignore all the help that is available, whether from doctors, family and friends, community resources or support groups. Research has shown that people living with a chronic illness who have an extended network of support fare better than those who withdraw and become isolated. Seeking help from a physician and/or a support group or mental health professional is a vital step in dealing with the many facets of a chronic illness and will help restore physical and emotional health.

Sources:

WebMD. Coping with Chronic Illness: What Goes Wrong: When it Comes to Self-Managing Chronic Conditions, Patients Often Make Mistakes. Accessed Feb 16, 2016.

LeMaistre, JoAnn. Coping With Chronic Illness. 1999. Alpine Guild. Accessed Feb 16, 2016.

Living With Asthma. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.Accessed Feb 16, 2016.

Crane MA, Jenkins CR, Goeman DP, Douglass JA. Inhaler device technique can be improved in older adults through tailored education: findings from a randomised controlled trial. NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine. 2014;24:14034

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