What is an asthma action plan?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My son was recently diagnosed with asthma. His doctor wants to put together an asthma "action plan." What is that?

DEAR READER: Asthma is a complicated and serious disease. It can behave differently from hour to hour and from day to day. A person with asthma needs a plan for what to do at each stage of the disease. I'll describe the elements of the plan in a minute, but first a little background on asthma itself.

Why have my asthma symptoms been worse at night?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have asthma. Lately my symptoms have been worse at night. Why is that?

DEAR READER: I put many questions to what I call the "grandmother test." My mother's mother did not have much education, but she was smart and had great common sense. Her answer to your question would have been: "There's something in your bedroom that's irritating your lungs." That's what I think, too.

How do bronchodilators and steroids help with asthma?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have asthma. Can you explain how bronchodilators and steroids help me breathe easier?

DEAR READER: To understand how asthma medications work, you need to understand how asthma affects your lungs.

Asthma assaults the lung's airways. The airways are the tubes through which the air you breathe enters and leaves your lungs. During an asthma attack, the airways get narrower as the muscles surrounding them constrict.