Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a written plan that tells you how to treat your asthma on a daily basis. The plan also helps you deal with sudden increases in your or your child's asthma symptoms (asthma attacks). You need to treat the inflammation in your lungs to minimize the long-term effects of asthma. The plan tells you what medicine is needed every day, what steps to take for an asthma attack (based on its severity), and when you should call a doctor or seek emergency treatment.
You and your doctor make the asthma action plan. In general, the plan includes:
- When to take the medicines you need daily to control airway inflammation.
- What medicine to take and what steps to follow to deal with an asthma attack.
The asthma action plan also may contain:
- Treatment goals, which include your personal goals about your asthma.
- How to measure your peak expiratory flow (PEF) with a peak flow meter.
- An asthma diary where you can keep track of your symptoms and triggers. You can also use the diary to record other things that help you manage asthma.
Your action plan is based on zones defined by your symptoms or your peak flow, or both. There are three zones: green, yellow, and red. Your action plan tells you what to do when you are in each zone. If your doctor recommends that you record PEF as part of your plan, then you will first need to find out your personal best PEF. This is your highest peak flow recorded over a 2- to 3-week period when your asthma is under control.
- Green zone. Green means Go. You are in the green zone of the asthma action plan if your peak expiratory flow is 80% to 100% of your personal best measurement. You want to be in the green zone every day. You should have no asthma symptoms when you are in the green zone. And you do not need quick-relief treatment. To figure 80% of your personal best peak flow, multiply your best flow by 0.80. For example, if your personal best flow is 400, multiplying by 0.80 gives you 320.
- Yellow zone. Yellow means Caution. You are in the yellow zone of your asthma action plan if your peak expiratory flow is 50% to 79% of your personal best measurement. You may not have any symptoms, but your lung function is reduced. When you have symptoms, they may be mild to moderate. They may keep you from your usual activities or disturb your sleep. You may be short of breath or have chest tightness. You might also cough or wheeze. Your action plan should state which quick-relief medicines you need to take, how much to take, and when to take them. To figure 50% of your personal best peak flow, multiply your best flow by 0.50. For example, if your personal best flow is 400, multiplying by 0.50 gives you 200.
- Red zone. Red means DANGER. You are in the red zone of your asthma action plan if your peak expiratory flow is less than 50% of your personal best measurement. Your symptoms may be severe. And you may have extreme shortness of breath and coughing. If your symptoms or peak expiratory flow, or both, are in the red zone, seek medical help immediately. While you are seeking emergency help, follow your action plan and take your medicines as directed. You may need emergency treatment or admission to a hospital.
The best strategy for avoiding and treating asthma attacks is being able to recognize an attack and know what to do. Talk with your doctor about:
- Your triggers. Asthma triggers are substances that can cause an attack, such as pollen or cigarette smoke. Avoiding your triggers can help reduce your risk of an attack and reduce its severity.
- Your symptoms. In general these include a drop in your peak expiratory flow (PEF) and more severe coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in your chest. The symptoms may vary from one person to another.
- Which quick-relief medicines you need to take and how to take them.
- How to evaluate whether your quick-relief medicines are working.
- When emergency care is needed. If you have a large drop in PEF, your quick-relief medicines are not working, or you are very short of breath, you may need emergency care. Your doctor will help you learn about these signs.
- A possible pregnancy. If you are pregnant, you may have other options for asthma medicines. During an attack, your doctor may also ask that you monitor your fetus's activity by noting a change in fetal kicks.
What To Expect
If you are in your green zone, keep taking daily controller medicine if you have it. You do not need quick-relief treatment.
If your symptoms are mild or moderate (in the yellow zone), treat them at home using the medicines specified in your asthma action plan. You can expect some relief of your asthma symptoms. Seek medical help if the symptoms do not go away soon after you take the prescribed medicine or if the symptoms become worse.
If your symptoms are severe (in the red zone), seek medical help immediately. While you are seeking emergency help, follow your action plan and take your medicines as directed. You may need emergency room treatment or admission to the hospital. After a severe asthma attack, you may need a short treatment using corticosteroids by mouth to bring your symptoms under control.
Why It Is Done
You and your doctor will work together to create an asthma action plan. Your action plan tells you what medicine you need to take every day and what to do if you notice a change in your asthma symptoms or your PEF, or both. This helps you make quick decisions about treatment so that you can avoid more serious attacks and get better.
How Well It Works
Studies show that using an asthma action plan based on symptoms or on peak expiratory flow can control asthma flare-ups.
If you do not follow your action plan or do not use the medicines it specifies, you may have a worse or longer asthma attack. You may have to seek emergency care or go to the hospital.
What To Think About
It is important to treat asthma attacks quickly, especially in children. Babies and small children need to be watched closely during asthma attacks. And caregivers should seek medical help early during an attack. Your child's symptoms do not always show the severity of the attack. If your child does not improve soon after treatment for an attack, talk with your doctor.
- During asthma attacks, stay calm and soothe your child. This may help him or her relax and breathe more easily.
- Don't underestimate or overestimate how severe your child's asthma is. It often is hard to assess a baby's or small child's breathing difficulty. Seek medical care early for babies and small children with asthma symptoms.
Asthma attacks cannot be controlled by drinking large amounts of liquids or taking non-prescription medicines such as antihistamines or cold remedies. But if you have asthma, you can take antihistamines for other problems, such as colds. Antihistamines will not make your asthma symptoms worse.
Other Works Consulted
- Kessler K (2010). Relationship between the use of asthma action plans and asthma exacerbations in children with asthma: A systematic review. Journal of Asthma and Allergy Educators, 2(1): 11–21. DOI: 10.1177/2150129710388415. Accessed January 12, 2015.
Current as of: June 9, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Rohit K. Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.