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Having well-controlled asthma can make a huge difference in your quality of life. If you or a family member has asthma, the following tips and tools can help you achieve good asthma control and avoid emergencies.

Asthma Attacks

When someone has asthma, their lungs and airways react more easily to the common cold or other respiratory virus and to things in the environment like extreme weather, scented products, smoke and vapor, and exercise.

When exposed to one of these “triggers”, the airways swell, fill with mucus and the muscles squeeze tight, making it hard to breathe. Asthma attacks occur quickly and can be very serious, even life threatening, so it is important to monitor your asthma and symptoms closely.

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Tip #1: Know what to do in an emergency

If you or a loved one is having an asthma attack, they need to take their rescue medicine as prescribed by their doctor. If symptoms get worse, get in touch with your doctor right away.

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if any of the following are happening:

  • You can’t reach the doctor and your breathing is getting worse after taking your rescue medicine.
  • Have trouble walking or talking
  • Lips or fingernails turn blue or gray
  • Skin between the ribs or neck is pulled very tight or sucks in
  • An infant or young child with asthma cannot eat, drink or their crying becomes weaker or comes in short spurts.

Asthma Symptoms

It is important to know your symptoms and signs of worsening asthma. Asthma symptoms vary between people and can flare up at different times of the day or year. Even if symptoms are usually mild, they can still stop you from doing the things you want to do— and get worse quickly.

Thinking of your asthma like the lights in a traffic light, make a point to notice how you feel when your asthma is well managed (in the green zone), poorly controlled or fighting a cold or other illness (in the yellow zone), and during an attack (in the red zone). 

Green Zone - You're Doing Well

Yellow Zone - Monitor Your Symptoms Closely Red Zone - Danger: Get Help!
  • Breathing well
  • No coughing, wheezing or whistling sound
  • Working, playing, exercising normally
  • Sleeping through the night
  • Coughing (especially if it wakes you up at night)
  • Mild wheezing or whistling sound
  • A tight feeling in your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • First signs of a cold
  • Poor sleep
  • A trigger causing your symptoms to flare up
  • Medicine is not helping and asthma is getting worse fast
  • Strained breathing
  • Wheezing a lot
  • Trouble talking or walking
  • Nostrils opening wide with breathing
  • Ribs or neck muscles showing while breathing
  • Gray or bluish lips or nails
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  • Continue to take your inhaler and medications as prescribed by your provider even if you feel good.


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Tip #2: Have an up-to-date annual Asthma Action Plan and share it with family, school nurse, coaches, daycare, and other caretakers.

Have an Asthma Action Plan up-to-date and on-hand to know how to manage your asthma in each of the plan’s three zones. If you’re a parent of a child with asthma, share the Asthma Action Plan with anyone who cares for your child including family members, parents of your child’s friends, school staff and the nurse, coaches, day care providers and any other caretakers.

Children, college students, seniors, and individuals living alone especially need their support system to be on the same page when it comes to supporting asthma control. The Asthma Action Plan can be a critical communication tool if someone you love is entering the Yellow or Red Zones.

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Download an Asthma Action Plan and complete it annually in partnership with your or your child’s health care provider.

Everyone with asthma should have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan.

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Know your Asthma Control Number

Many people with diabetes are aware of their A1C, or blood sugar, levels so they can work with their health care team to manage their condition. In a similar way, people with high blood pressure often keep track of their blood pressure numbers so they can best control it.

For those with asthma, the best number is the FEV1 or lung function measure that you can get from a health care provider using spirometry. Contact your doctor to learn more or receive testing at UVM Pulmonary Medicine. The best number you can get yourself is the asthma control number. By answering simple questions about your asthma symptoms, any one of the several proven asthma control tools will give you a score to show if your asthma is well controlled or poorly controlled.


Check your asthma control number to see how well your asthma is managed.

The Asthma Control TestTM is one tool that can help you determine whether your asthma is being properly controlled.

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Poorly Controlled Asthma

If your asthma control number shows "poorly controlled" then you are not in the "green zone". You will want to notify your doctor. You will also want to check if you are doing everything you can do to move your number to “well controlled” and back to the "green zone" by following your Asthma Action Plan.

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Tip #3: The sooner you know your number the sooner you can take action

Many Vermonters with asthma have an asthma number worse than they realize, and should be taking action sooner to gain better control.


Sign up for Asthma Self-Management Education to improve your number

If your asthma control number shows your asthma poorly controlled and that you are not in the "green zone”, you will want to notify your doctor, follow your asthma action plan and confirm you are doing everything you can do to gain better asthma control.

One of the best steps is to complete Asthma Self-Management Education (also called AS-ME) so that you can be sure you are doing everything that you can to manage your asthma.

Learn more about AS-ME

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