Tips for Helping Asthma & Allergy Patients

 Published: May 1, 2019

By: Heather Willden


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For Asthma & Allergy Awareness Month this May, we have put together a tips series for RTs. Each week, we’ll post advice from your fellow AARC Members with tips on how best to help patients who are working to manage their allergies and asthma.

This week, Mike Shoemaker, MBA, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, from Anderson, South Carolina, shares his best practices for helping patients.

Mike’s Tips

As RTs, there are several ways that we can help our patients who are working to manage allergies and asthma.

One of the first things we can do is to help patients understand that medications are only one piece of the puzzle; they are often necessary, but medications alone will not control asthma or allergies.

Minimize allergens and irritants

RTs can serve their patients well by understanding the things that aggravate allergies/asthma and by teaching patients that the first and most important step is to reduce or eliminate exposure to irritants and allergens. Be prepared to talk about ways to minimize exposure to common allergens such as pollens, mold, pet dander, dust mites, etc.

I encourage all RTs to spend some extra time researching and reading about local environmental allergens and to follow local pollen counts and pollen patterns. The National Allergy Bureau is a great resource for RTs and patients.

Finally, try to be specific. If your patient has been allergy tested, focus on known allergies first! It’s not always the cat.

Assess medication adherence

In addition to teaching patients how to minimize exposure to allergens/irritants, RTs can and should assess medication adherence at every interaction.

Try to incorporate open-ended questions and patient demonstration into your teaching. For example:

instead of asking, “Are you taking (insert medication name) every day? Do you take it once or twice daily?”;

try asking, “What medications are you currently taking for your asthma and allergies?”.

When teaching proper inhaler technique, consider starting by saying, “Show me how you use your inhaler”.

Even with children as young as 5 or 6 years old, validated teaching methods such as Teach Back can be very helpful. For example:
“Grandma couldn’t be here today and she will need to understand your asthma action plan when you stay at her house. Let’s pretend I’m Grandma and you teach me this plan, ok?”

Be professional

Finally, I truly believe that we can have a profound impact on patients who are trying to manage asthma and allergies by maintaining our sense of professionalism.

Why does that matter?

Think about it. Many of these patients may be receiving care (and medications… and information….) from an allergist, a pulmonologist, a primary care physician, and from you—the RT in the hospital, clinic, or other setting. There are a lot of “cooks in the kitchen” and we can play a vital role in helping the patient navigate the path to control asthma or allergies.

The best way to position yourself to do that is to build trust with both your patients and the providers in your area. We, as RTs, are in a great position to facilitate communication among caregivers, to provide valuable information, and to help the team do what is best for the patient.

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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