Asthma is a chronic disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Gaining control of your asthma is essential to living well with this condition and reducing flare-ups that require emergency care. This article provides steps you can take to determine your asthma severity and gain control of your symptoms. By understanding your Asthma Control Test results, identifying triggers, properly using medications, improving inhaler technique, reducing allergens, making lifestyle changes, and preparing an emergency plan, you can minimize asthma's impact and avoid dangerous attacks. While asthma cannot be cured, appropriate control and management can help you live an active, unencumbered life.

Understanding Asthma Control Test (ACT)

The Asthma Control Test (ACT) measures how well your asthma is controlled. The ACT is a simple questionnaire that provides a standardized score to help determine if your asthma is well-controlled or if adjustments to your medications or treatments are needed. Studies show patients with higher ACT scores experience significantly better health outcomes, so taking the ACT is vital to effective asthma management. Your doctor will have you complete the ACT during appointments to measure your level of asthma control over the past month. An ACT score of 19 or less indicates your asthma is poorly controlled, while a score of 20-25 suggests it is. Discussing your score with your doctor will help determine if any changes need to be made to get your asthma under control. Between appointments, you can ask your doctor for a copy of the ACT to self-administer and monitor how well your treatments are working. Keeping asthma in check requires ongoing assessment and re-evaluation.

Triggers and Avoidance

Triggers are environmental factors that can inflame your airways and cause asthma symptoms. Common triggers include allergens like pet dander, pollen, dust mites, and mold; pollutants such as smoke and smog; respiratory infections; cold air; exercise; and stress. Severe attacks can often be traced back to exposure to triggers. The most effective way to control triggers is to avoid them whenever possible. Practice good hygiene, like showering and washing clothes after being outside in high-pollen weather. Learn how to control stress through relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation. While you cannot eliminate all triggers, lessening exposure helps significantly improve asthma control and quality of life.

Inhaler Technique

Using inhalers correctly maximizes the amount of medication reaching your airways. In studies, over 76% of people with asthma do not employ proper techniques, reducing inhaler effectiveness. With practice, correct use will become second nature and help keep your asthma in check. Common mistakes include failure to exhale before inhaling, inhaling too quickly, and not holding your breath after inhaling. For metered-dose inhalers, shake well and depress the canister once into the chamber. Tilt head back slightly, exhale fully and close mouth, place inhaler in mouth and press down on canister as you inhale slowly. Then, hold your breath for 5-10 seconds before exhaling. For dry powder inhalers, exhale fully, place the inhaler in your mouth, and inhale forcefully. Hold your breath, then rinse your mouth with water. Take your time and be thorough - good technique is key to achieving full benefit from inhalers. Ask about spacer devices for those unable to coordinate inhaler use.

Allergy Testing

Allergies commonly trigger asthma attacks. Allergy testing determines which environmental allergens affect you so you can work to minimize exposures. Two options for allergy testing include skin prick tests, where potential allergens are scratched into the skin, and blood tests that measure IgE antibody levels to specific allergens. Discuss options with your doctor to determine which is right based on symptoms, history, and risk factors. Allergy testing guides treatment options like immunotherapy, medical management of symptoms, or avoiding certain allergens altogether. Once testing indicates which substances trigger your asthma or allergic reactions, you and your doctor can devise a comprehensive management plan to control exposures, reduce inflammation, and prevent symptoms. Allergy testing may need to be repeated as sensitivities can change over time. Battling the root causes of allergic asthma symptoms provides the best chance of gaining long-term control.


Immunotherapy, such as allergy shots or sublingual tablets, helps desensitize you to specific allergens and lessen asthma and allergy symptoms over time. Small, increasing amounts of an allergen are introduced into your body to help build immunity and tolerance. This treatment option may significantly improve asthma control and reduce the need for medications, especially inhalers and nasal sprays. Allergy shots start with frequent injections that become less often during a build-up phase, followed by maintenance shots 1-2 times a month for 3-5 years. Sublingual tablets melt under your tongue instead of injections. Immunotherapy may cause side effects, so you must remain under a doctor's care, but it can be very effective for certain people in gaining better control over asthma and allergies. Discuss immunotherapy with your allergist if allergy testing shows you are significantly sensitive to particular substances that correlate with your symptoms. This approach targets the underlying causes of asthma flare-ups and may provide lasting relief from troublesome triggers.


Make sure you understand how and when to use all prescribed treatments properly. Track how well medications control symptoms and share results with your doctor to make adjustments if needed. Request a demonstration from your doctor or pharmacist on proper inhaler technique and ask questions about anything you need help understanding. Compliance with your treatment plan is essential to successful long-term asthma management.