If you're one of the 20 million Americans who have asthma, your biggest priority will probably be preventing an attack. Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition, which currently has no cure. Anyone who has asthma can suffer an attack, but these can often be prevented through careful monitoring of symptoms and early preventative action. When asthma flares up, your airways inflame and produce excess mucus, which constricts the airways. This makes it difficult to breathe and causes the wheezing, gasping, and coughing that are typical of an asthma attack. By enlisting the aid of a device called a peak flow meter, you can spot problems...and take preventative action...BEFORE you have noticeable difficulty breathing. To use it, take a deep breath, and exhale into this inhaler-sized device. The meter measures how easily air moves in and out of your lungs. Generally, when your peak flow measurement drops below 80 percent, you're at risk for a moderate attack. Below 50 percent signifies that a serious attack is forthcoming. The better informed you are about what factors trigger your asthma attacks, the easier it can be to avoid a flare-up of symptoms. Track the progression of your asthma in a medical diary. By discussing your diary with your doctor, you can help identify triggers and create the best course of asthma treatment. Note the symptoms you experienced, when they occurred, and what factors triggered them. If you can't spot a connection, describe what you did and how you felt emotionally. Include information about medications you took and your peak flow numbers. Finally, note any changes in your daily activities as a result of symptoms. While you're keeping an asthma diary, be aware of some common triggers of asthma attacks. These triggers include airborne dust or pollen particles, allergens of any kind, cigarette and wood fire smoke, strong odors, changing weather conditions, and exercise. Once you know your triggers, take steps to reduce your exposure to them. For example, you might limit your time outdoors when air quality is poor or the pollen count is high. Or, if dust is a trigger, you could wash your bedding weekly in hot water to reduce dust mites. Serious sufferers may also want to invest in anti-allergen bedding. It can help to notify friends, family members and coworkers of your triggers, too. These people can help support you and work to reduce your exposure to the factors that prompt an asthma attack. Round out your preventative measures by getting enough sleep, exercising and eating a healthy diet. Stress and illness are two common asthma attack triggers that can be minimized or avoided by taking care of yourself. Asthma attacks are frightening, but by taking preventative measures, you can gain control of your symptoms. If you are currently experiencing breathing difficulties, please see your doctor for a check-up.