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Step 9: Understand your action plan

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You should ask for a written action plan. Action plans come in a variety of styles and formats. Sometimes you will get several sets of instructions, other times all of the instructions will be combined into one form. The most important thing is that the instructions should be easy to read and understand. Important parts of an action plan include:

  • How to take your medicines when your asthma is controlled
  • How to watch your asthma when you are at home
  • How to recognize when your asthma gets worse and what to do
  • When to call your doctor
  • How to avoid triggers that make your asthma worse
  • What to do when you exercise, go to school, work, and other special situations

The zone system

One of the most common action plan formats is the "zone system," which is based on traffic lights:

The GREEN ZONE explains how to manage your asthma on a daily (or regular) basis. In other words, it tells you what drugs to take on normal days when you are feeling good.
The YELLOW ZONE explains signs to look for that your asthma is getting worse. (Signs can include symptoms getting worse, or a drop in peak flow.) The yellow zone tells you what additional drugs/steps to take to bring your asthma back under control.
The RED ZONE explains when to contact a doctor or go to the emergency room.

Your action plan assumes that you are monitoring your own body for signs that your asthma is getting worse. Action plans designed for school can be especially important, so that everyone knows what to do when the asthma gets worse, and all the right medicines and phone numbers are on hand. There are two basic ways to do this:

  • Action plans can be based on the signs and symptoms themselves -- coughing, wheezing, breathing difficulties (such as shortness of breath), and chest tightness. Here is an example of an action plan that includes only the signs.
  • Action plans can be based on your "peak flow." Peak flow is described in the next step. Here is an example of an action plan that includes both signs and peak flow.

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