Little is known about how individuals who have chronic disease actually manage their symptoms. This study involving a community-based population of 157 adult asthmatics assesses their ability to take care of their disease and to alter their behavior following a change in symptoms. Multiple techniques (interview, direct observation, and diary) were used to determine their behaviors with respect to medications and physician use; there were then compared with criteria defining the requisite level of a behavior to reduce symptoms. Of the population assessed, 66% had no bronchodilator medication at home, 24% used an inhaler ineffectively, and 68% did not see a physician regularly. When faced with increasing symptoms, at least 40% of the asthmatics did not perform three basic and appropriate behaviors in medication use and physician contact. If physicians and other health care providers could decrease the frequency of these inappropriate self-care behaviors, it could result in improved health.