Living well with asthma

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Asthma and allergies

Asthma and allergies are closely linked. Most people with asthma have allergic asthma.

Allergy testing is not essential to diagnose suspected asthma, but your doctor may suggest it. Testing can help identify whether you need to think about managing your allergies as part of managing your asthma. It may also be useful in working out whether a young child with wheeze will have asthma when they get older.

As well as following the normal steps for good asthma care, managing allergic asthma involves:

  • treating hay fever, if you have it
  • knowing which allergic triggers affect your asthma (e.g. dust mites, pets, pollen, moulds)
  • avoiding the relevant allergic triggers, where practical and potentially effective.

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Asthma and COPD

Asthma and COPD are different conditions but have many features in common.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the term used for certain long-term lung conditions that cause shortness of breath, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD usually occurs in people who have smoked or continue to smoke cigarettes. Being exposed to irritants like dust and fumes can also increase the risk of developing COPD.

Asthma and COPD can be hard to tell apart because the symptoms can be very similar. Also, it is possible to have both conditions at once.

Your doctor may ask you to have a lung function test (called spirometry) to help work out if you have asthma or COPD, and to check how mild or severe your lung problems might be.

Knowing which condition you have, or whether you have both, is important so you can get the right treatment. Asthma and COPD have different patterns of flare-ups, symptoms and triggers, and they need to be managed differently to keep you feeling well.

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Asthma and pregnancy

It is especially important to manage your asthma carefully during pregnancy, because you are breathing for two. Keep taking your asthma medicines as usual, and talk to your doctor as early as possible about your asthma care during pregnancy.

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Asthma and exercise

Asthma symptoms after physical activity are common but can be prevented. The symptoms are usually worst 5 to 10 minutes after stopping exercise, not during the exercise. If exercise causes asthma symptoms, tell your doctor so you can get effective treatment.

Don’t let your asthma stop you or your child being physically active. If you can, get involved in structured exercise training. People with asthma who participate in this sort of training feel better.

Swimming is popular for children with asthma, but doing other regular sports or activities is just as good.

Tips for getting active with asthma

  • Do a proper warm-up before exercising.
  • Get as fit as possible – the fitter you are, the more you can exercise before asthma symptoms start.
  • Avoid exercising where there are high levels of pollens, dust, fumes or pollution.
  • Exercise in a place that is warm and humid – avoid cold, dry air if possible.
  • Try to breathe through your nose (not your mouth) when you exercise – this makes the air warm and moist when it reaches your lungs.

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What else can you do?

  • Tell your child’s day care, preschool, school or sporting club that your child has asthma, and give them a copy of the written asthma action plan.
  • Tell your doctor if allergies are bothering you or your child and make sure you get effective treatment.
  • Live smoke-free. Don’t smoke, and avoid other people’s cigarette smoke (even outdoors). Smoking and asthma is a dangerous combination for adults and children.
  • Eat well. Aim for plenty of fruit and vegetables every day, eat fish often, and limit foods high in saturated fat (e.g. fast foods).
  • Being overweight may make asthma harder to manage. Losing even a small amount of weight could really improve asthma. Keep flu shots up to date.
  • Look after your mental health. Tell to your doctor if you have been feeling down, anxious, or aren’t enjoying those things you normally do enjoy. Your mental health can affect your asthma, and asthma may affect your mental health.


Questions to ask your health professional

Make sure you can answer all these questions about your asthma or your child’s asthma. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

  • Is the asthma action plan up to date?
  • When should each asthma medicine be used (and how much)?
  • Am I (or is my child) using the inhaler the correct way to get the most benefit from the medicine?
  • What are the possible side-effects of the medicines?
  • How should I keep track of asthma symptoms?
  • What more can I do to avoid asthma symptoms or ‘attacks’?
  • What should I do if asthma symptoms get worse?
  • Are prescriptions up to date for any medicines I may need?
  • What should I do in an asthma emergency?
  • When is the next asthma check-up?
  • What information should I give day care/preschool/school/other organisations about my child’s asthma


More information

Last reviewed July 2015