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Asthma affects people in different ways - some people suffer from asthma symptoms constantly, some only get symptoms every few weeks, while others have their asthma so well controlled that they hardly experience symptoms at all.

If you have symptoms of asthma more than twice a week, your asthma is not well controlled. Most people with asthma can lead a healthy active lifestyle when they manage their condition well. Here are the key steps that you can follow to better manage asthma.

Follow an Asthma Action Plan

An Asthma Action Plan can help you work out how well you are and what to do if your asthma gets worse or better. Research shows that people who follow Asthma Action Plans have better control over their asthma. Click here for Child Asthma Action Plans.

Take your medication as prescribed

It is important that you understand how your medicines or asthma inhalers work, and then take them as prescribed. There are different devices to deliver your medicines. Click here to find out more about asthma inhalers.

Use a Peak Flow Meter


You can learn the patterns of your asthma by using a peak flow meter, which tells you how fast you can blow air out. When your airways are fully open you will get a high reading, and when your airways start to get narrow the reading becomes lower.

You can use these readings along with your symptoms to decide when to change your treatment by following your Asthma Action Plan.

Visit your asthma team regularly

It is important to build a partnership with your doctor, practice nurse, asthma educator and pharmacist. Following their advice should help you reduce the number of symptoms you face. See your GP if your asthma is interfering with your daily activities or worrying you in any other way.

Keep active

Boy Playing Rugby Asthma And Exercise

Being physically active is especially important for people with asthma, although some people are afraid it might bring on an asthma attack. However, by following some simple tips, most people can exercise free of asthma symptoms. Physical activity improves lung capacity, blood flow, and is calming, fulfilling and fun.

People who are active usually find they have less asthma and cope better when they do have it. Sport New Zealand recommends just 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days of the week - a small price to pay for staying well!

Many people get more wheezy with exercise because their asthma is not as well controlled as it could be. See your doctor to review your medicines and ask for an Asthma Action Plan. Activities involving a lot of stopping and starting or a warm moist environment are less likely to trigger asthma. Swimming, walking, tramping, tennis, yoga, martial arts, tai chi, aerobics or team sports, are good options. Use your reliever inhaler before activity - take 1-2 puffs of reliever medicine just before you exercise.

Be smokefree

Smokes And Inhaler

Cigarette smoke contains 4000 harmful chemicals and is a major asthma trigger. Around three quarters of people with asthma become wheezy in a smoky room, so avoiding cigarette smoke is an important way to help keep your asthma under control.

Why is smoke especially harmful to people with asthma?

  • It reduces your lung function.
  • It may increase your chances of having asthma attacks.
  • It makes your day-to-day asthma control harder to achieve and increases the need for asthma medications.
  • It may increase your sensitivity to other environmental triggers (eg pets, pollens and chemicals).
  • It increases your chances of permanently damaging your airways – there is a very real risk of developing chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Children with asthma whose parents smoke have more asthma symptoms than children whose parents don’t smoke. When you come in contact with other people’s cigarette smoke you breathe in second-hand smoke with all of its harmful chemicals.

Infants and children of all ages develop are at risk of health problems from secondhand smoking if their parent or caregiver smokes, and they are exposed to it for longer periods of time.

Infants and children who breathe in other people’s cigarette smoke can:

  • develop glue ear or middle ear infections
  • suffer more ear, nose, throat or chest infections, croup and wheezing
  • develop asthma
  • develop pneumonia and bronchitis
  • be at risk from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • be at risk from meningococcal disease.

Make it a rule that your home (and car) are smokefree at all times for everyone. Let other people know, asking them to go outside to smoke. Remove all ashtrays from inside your home, and put up Smokefree home/Whare Auahi Kore stickers on your letterbox or at the entrance to your home (your local public health service has these free stickers). A total ban on smoking in the house is the best way to protect your children, but until you quit, waiting until the kids are in bed or smoking less inside doesn’t actually reduce exposure to second-hand smoke.

If you smoke, try to give up! It isn’t easy, but there are plenty of people who want to help make the process easier for you. If you have managed to quit before – well done – it will be less difficult next time.

For help with quitting, call Quitline 0800 778 778, one of our asthma partners, the National Heart Foundation or the Cancer Society.


Asthma and periods

Some girls find that their asthma is worse around they begin to have their periods, although this usually settles down as their periods become established. However, women with severe asthma may find that their symptoms are worse just before or during menstruation. Keeping a peak flow and/or symptom diary will help you clarify whether this is an issue for you. If you don’t already have one, talk to your doctor about an Asthma Action Plan, and whether it could include taking extra reliever treatment during the week before your period.

Some medications used for period pain (aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets, eg Nurofen, Ibuprofen and Ponstan) can induce an asthma attack in some people. Paracetemol is usually safe. The oral contraceptive pill has no effect on asthma.

Asthma during pregnancy

The most important advice for a pregnant woman is not to smoke, and this is even more important if there is a family history of asthma. Around one third of women find their asthma improves in pregnancy, one third stay the same and one third find their asthma gets worse. If your asthma gets worse you may need to increase your medication and revise your Asthma Action Plan with your doctor. You will also need to discuss your plans for the delivery of your baby. If your asthma is severe the delivery may be best handled in a hospital environment in order to access appropriate support if required. During labour and delivery you have the same choice of pain medication as any woman. If you do happen to have an asthma attack at this time, treat it as you would normally.

Inhaled asthma treatment will not harm your baby during pregnancy. Your baby will do best if you are breathing well and easily, so it is important that your asthma is well controlled.

A very small minority of women with severe asthma need to take steroid tablets during pregnancy. Using steroid tablets for long periods of time or repeatedly during pregnancy can increase the risk of your baby being born underweight. However, the risk to the baby of uncontrolled asthma is potentially much more harmful. You and your doctor need to weigh up the risks against the benefits.


Your inhaled asthma medications are not found in breast milk, and even if you have to use steroid tablets the small quantities in the breast milk will not have any harmful effect on your baby.

Useful Resources

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Air Asthma Action Plans Cover Image

AIR Asthma Action Plan

This self-management action plan for adolescents and adults (aged 12 years and over) is to be completed by healthcare practitioners, together with their patients. Available in English, te reo Māori, Samoan, Tongan and Simplified Chinese

Child Asthma Action Plan Cover

Child Asthma Action Plan

This asthma action plan is for healthcare practitioners to complete alongside parents/caregivers and their child. Available in English, te reo Māori, Samoan and Tongan

Managing Your Childs Asthma Booklet Cover

Managing your child's asthma

The “Managing your child’s asthma” resource teaches parents/whānau about asthma including how to help prevent an asthma attack. Also available in English, te reo Māori, and Samoan.