Remembering to take medication for asthma

People who are taking a range of different medication may need to develop strategies to help them remember to take their medication regularly. A general rule is that regular inhaled steroids should be used by people who have daytime symptoms twice a week or more, nighttime symptoms once a week, or who have had a flare-up in the last 2 years.

Dee described herself as “an organised asthmatic” and explained that her motivation to take the medication properly and everyday was strong because she had experienced a very bad asthma attack some years ago and wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen again. She had developed a number of strategies to control her asthma including keeping inhalers in handy places and having a list of her medication by the phone in case of an emergency.

Several people said that they made sure to always have a reliever inhaler close to hand so that there wouldn’t be a panic if they started to feel their asthma was kicking in. Sometimes people asked their GP to prescribe several inhalers at a time so they could keep them in different places such as the car, the desk at work, their coat pocket or handbag.

The best piece of advice Dee was given when she was first diagnosed was to be an organised asthmatic’ She has worked out ways to make sure she is able to manage her asthma that help her to feel she is in control. [AUDIO ONLY]

Age at interview 52

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 23

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People mentioned other strategies that they said helped them to feel in control of their asthma, rather than letting it control them. Several people said they planned ahead, so that if they were going somewhere unfamiliar they would have a plan of what to do and where to get help if they felt unwell – what one person called “exit strategies”.

Jan has learned to be practical and plan ahead. The lessons I’ve learned are never to take it for granted.

Age at interview 46

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 4

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At the same time people also worried that placing too much faith in their inhaler could cause problems. As Chris explained, “I did go through a stage where I was kind of addicted to it… I had to, kind of, educate myself as an adult out of this over-reliance on it, because I felt that if I was away from home and I didn’t have the inhaler I would have an attack. And it was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, because if I didn’t know I’d forgotten it I’d be fine.”

It was sometimes hard to remember to take the preventer medication when people were feeling well, and some admitted that they had been through periods when they stopped using their inhaler because they weren’t experiencing symptoms and rather hoped they didn’t need it any more. On reflection, it was probably better to make this decision with a GP or asthma nurse. People also sometimes worry about long-term effects of medication and understandably want to take as little as possible, but as Jan said, “the thing is with asthma, I think when you’re well you forget it, and that’s where the danger is; but even when I’m at my most healthy I would always take the preventer.”

Some people had worked out that they can take their preventative medication when they know they are at risk. Alastair, for example, said he only gets symptoms in summer: “I’m probably supposed to use it on an annual, you know, all the time, but kind of, when it goes away you think you don’t need it. So I stop using it when my asthma stops and then I start using the brown one when it kicks in again the next.” (See Managing asthma: reviews and action plans).

Several people recommended making a routine around medicine-taking as a way of reminding oneself, whether or not symptoms were present. Margaret gave this advice:

For Margaret the most important thing is to ensure that you are taking the medication correctly and regularly. It’s just part of the morning and night routine, before you clean your teeth, you take your inhaler.

Age at interview 62

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 47

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