Asthma Personal Action Plans - what are they and why have one?

As its name implies, a Personal Action Plan, or PAP is personal to you and your asthma: it is a simple, written tool that will help you keep on top of your symptoms. It gives you the power to manage the condition yourself within certain agreed limits, so it can be a convenient and time-saving resource.

Asthma is a long-term condition - it is something you learn to live with - but if it is well managed then it should not affect your quality of life significantly or even at all. You should be able to sleep, exercise and work with as few symptoms as possible.

The ideal way to achieve this is to take your usual medication regularly and as prescribed, but to be ready to respond to changes in your symptoms by making adjustments if you need to. You may have heard this referred to as ‘stepping up’ or ‘stepping down’ your medication. This approach sounds straight forward, although without a simple but flexible plan it can be surprisingly hard to stick to.

Asthma can change either gradually or suddenly depending on any number of factors. Some people can predict they will feel worse after certain activities, for example cleaning a dusty environment, or maybe at certain times of year, due to colds and flu or hay fever. Sometimes a change in symptoms is less predictable. Your asthma is personal to you - a ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to be much help; nor does it make sense to wait until your symptoms are out of control before you take action.

This is where your PAP comes in: it outlines a set of simple steps that you can take in a number of given situations. Because it is there on hand - in a simple, written form - you can respond quickly to changes, before things get worse.

How do I get a PAP?

Your GP or practice nurse will be able to give you a PAP. It will highlight your everyday preventer treatment, what to do in a situation where you are likely to get wheezy and also how to alter your medication if your asthma gets gradually worse. It also outlines what to do if your asthma gets suddenly worse, that is if you have an acute asthma attack and when you should seek additional help. PAPs should be regularly reviewed, particularly if your medicine has recently changed.

However carefully you follow your PAP, there may be some situations when you will need extra help to get your asthma under control. In these cases, speak to your GP for further advice. Some people will also have a course of steroid tablets they keep at home for more severe symptoms, and directions in their PAP for when to take them. Personal Action Plans are easy to get and straight forward to use but research shows that they really do work. Ideally everyone with asthma should have one.