May 2, 2023
Written by

Luke Marshall, PhD

How to Use an Asthma Action Plan

It’s World Asthma Day (May 2, 2023), which is organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma, (GINA), a World Health Organization collaborative organization.

If you are a primary care provider, it’s a great chance to reflect on the crucial role you play in managing your patients' asthma.

One tool that can help you provide effective care and improve outcomes is the Asthma Action Plan developed by the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The Asthma Action Plan is a personalized management plan that outlines steps to take when asthma symptoms worsen. Typically, it is a printed handout that includes three “zones” – green, yellow, and red – that are defined by different patient metrics (e.g., Peak Flow Rate, FEV1, symptoms), and have corresponding actions for the patient to take:

The Green Zone indicates good asthma control, with no symptoms or minimal symptoms that don't interfere with daily activities and a peak flow and/or FEV1 that is greater than 80% of the patient’s predicted values. The instructions for the green zone typically include taking daily controller medication as prescribed and avoiding triggers that can worsen asthma symptoms.

The Yellow Zone indicates that asthma symptoms are worsening and that caution is needed. Symptoms in the yellow zone may include coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. A patient in the Yellow Zone typically has a peak flow and/or FEV1 that is between 50-79% of their predicted values. The instructions for the Yellow Zone typically include increasing the use of rescue medication, monitoring symptoms, and seeking medical attention if symptoms worsen.

The Red Zone indicates a medical emergency and requires immediate action. In the Red Zone, peak flow and/or FEV1 are below 50% of predicted and symptoms may include severe shortness of breath, wheezing that does not improve with rescue medication, or difficulty speaking or walking. The instructions for the Red Zone typically include using rescue medication immediately, seeking medical attention right away, and calling 911 if necessary.

So, how can you use the Asthma Action Plan as part of your practice?

Use the Asthma Action Plan to educate your patients. By creating a personalized plan, you can help them understand the severity of their asthma and what to do when symptoms worsen. Reviewing the plan with them during office visits can ensure they are following the appropriate medication regimen and provide guidance on how to avoid triggers that can exacerbate their symptoms.

Encourage patients to bring their Asthma Action Plan to school or work, so teachers or supervisors are aware of their condition and know what to do in case of an emergency.

The Asthma Action Plan should be reviewed regularly to ensure it remains relevant and effective. During office visits, ask your patients if they've experienced any changes in their symptoms or if they've had to use their rescue medication more frequently. Based on their responses, you can make any necessary adjustments to the Asthma Action Plan.

If possible, keeping track of how often your patients move between the different zones, can help you get a sense of how well their asthma is being managed. If a patient is frequently moving into the yellow or red zones, it may indicate that their asthma is not well-controlled, and additional interventions may be needed.

The print-out version of an Asthma Action Plan is a valuable tool that primary care providers can use to help their patients manage their asthma effectively. However, an automated digital asthma action plan, with integrated alerting features for both patients and providers can help with ongoing asthma management. VitalFlo has these features integrated into our home monitoring platform – schedule a product demo.

By creating personalized plans that include the Green, Yellow, and Red Zones, educating patients, regularly reviewing the plan, tracking progress, and collaborating with specialists, primary care providers can provide comprehensive and effective care for their patients with asthma.

Together, we can improve outcomes and help our patients lead healthier, happier lives. Happy World Asthma Day!

Written by

Luke Marshall, PhD