When you are prescribed new asthma medications, there are a number of things you need to know. The more informed you are when you get new asthma medications the better off you will be. Being an informed asthma patient means not only telling your doctors about all of your medications from all of your doctors, but asking informed questions.
In fact it is probably a good idea to make sure you can answer the following questions about all of your medications, not just your new asthma medications:
- What are the names of my asthma medications and what is each one supposed to do? Be sure you know why you are taking each medication. It is important for you to know which drugs are your controller medications and which are used for quick relief. If you do not know what each drug is used for, it will not only affect your ability to get control of your asthma, but also increase risk for side effects and other problems. Having and reviewing an asthma action plan with your doctor will help ensure you know and appropriately use all of your asthma medications.
- Are there instructions for taking each medication? Know how, when, and how often you need to take each medication. While it may seem logical with asthma meds, I have seen patients that misunderstood medication instructions and took new asthma medications totally incorrectly. For example, patients have crushed pills and attempted to take them through a nebulizer. This not only won't help your asthma, but potentially puts you at increased risk of side effects. One tip is to repeat the instruction for your new asthma medication back to your doctor to make sure you understood correctly.
- Is there anything I should avoid when starting on a new asthma medication? Many times your body needs to get adjusted to a new medication as there are some side effects, like dizziness or falling, that occur more frequently when starting a new asthma medication. As a result you may need to closely monitor or change some activities when starting a new med. Make sure you ask about and understand any impacts of a new asthma medication on your life -- job, school, and activities -- before you leave your doctor's office.
- How will I know if the medication is working? Given how busy doctors offices are these days, it may be a while before you follow-up with your doctor after starting a new asthma medication. Your doctor should be able to tell you about improvements in symptoms or peak flows they hope to see. Importantly, ask your doctor what to do (e.g. call or make an appointment) if your symptoms do not improve after starting your new asthma medication.
- Will the new asthma medication interact with my other medications? Your physician may not think about interactions with over the counter or herbal medications, especially if you have not told your doctor or they have not asked. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medications you take especially over the counter and medications prescribed by other doctors. Additionally, one advantage of using a single pharmacy is that the pharmacy can identify potentially serious interactions with new asthma medications using their computer systems. This can be especially helpful if you see several different doctors and forgot to tell one of them about all of your medications. Ask your pharmacist if they provide a drug interaction service.
- What if I miss a dose or accidentally take an extra dose? While we all intend to take our medication correctly, sometimes we make mistakes with our medication. What do you do if you miss a medication dose? What if you forgot about taking your controller medication and accidentally take an extra dose? Ask your doctor what to do so you can be prepared!
- What should I know about giving my child her medication? Children’s dosing is often very different from adult dosing. Make sure you know the correct dose and how if may differ from an adult dose.
- Can I take this medication if I am pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant or breast feeding? While many asthma medications are used in pregnancy and newborn period, it is important for your doctor to know if you are thinking about becoming pregnant or breast feeding in order to discuss risks and benefits with you. Because many pregnancies are unplanned, you may want discuss these issues with your doctor before you are expecting just in case.
- Do you have any written information? We have all been at the doctor's office and told the doctor or nurse we understood everything that was just explained to us only to get home and forgotten everything. Handouts with important facts that cover many of these questions will help you take your medication appropriately and recognize side effects and treatment success. Ask your doctor if they have a handout to cover your new asthma medication.
- Will I need monitoring? Your doctor may want to check blood tests or preform pulmonary function testing after starting a new asthma medication. Make sure you understand what tests are needed and when they need to be performed.
If you have a specific question about one of your new asthma medications, you can look it up in About.com's drug finder.
National Council on Patient Information and Education. Accessed August 1, 2010. How To Talk About Prescriptions