Recognize what makes your disease worse so you can better manage it
An asthma trigger is a thing, activity or condition that makes asthma worse. When you come in contact with a trigger it can cause a sudden worsening of symptoms, often called an asthma attack, episode or flare-up.
Common asthma triggers include allergens, respiratory infections, irritants, exercise and emotions. Knowing what causes your asthma symptoms is an important step toward managing your disease. Allergy tests may help identify your triggers. Your health-care provider can help you recognize what makes your asthma worse and help you find simple solutions to reduce or avoid asthma triggers.
Medical conditions. Respiratory infections, such as a cold, flu or sinus infection, are the most common cause of asthma symptoms leading to an asthma attack. Frequent hand washing and avoiding people who are sick will help reduce your exposure to cold and flu. But the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. Acid reflux and pregnancy hormones can also make asthma symptoms worse.
Weather, pollen and air pollution. Changes in the season can bring on an asthma episode due to increased pollen from grass, weeds and trees. Limit your time outdoors during seasons with high pollen, such as spring and fall. Extreme temperatures and high humidity can also trigger symptoms of asthma, as can air pollution, smog, vehicle exhaust and fumes.
Food and medicines. Asthma can be triggered by food allergies and medications. Discuss any over-the-counter or prescription medicines you take, such as aspirin, fever-reducers or anti-inflammatories, with your doctor, along with any alternative therapies or herbal remedies that may have an impact on your asthma. Common food allergies include peanuts and shellfish.
Smoke. All types of smoke can make it hard to breathe, including smoke from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, wood burning fireplaces, bonfires and burning leaves. If you smoke, make a plan to quit. If you don’t smoke but live with someone who does, discuss ways to avoid or limit your exposure to tobacco smoke.
Strong odors. Scents from perfumes, deodorants and cleaning supplies can affect a person with asthma. When possible, choose fragrance-free cleaning and personal care products.
Animals and pests. Dander and saliva from animals with fur or feathers can be an allergen for some and can cause asthma symptoms. Reduce your exposure to pet allergens by vacuuming and damp dusting weekly. Try to keep your pets out of the bedroom or other rooms where you spend a lot of time. Pests in the home, workplace or school can impact your asthma. To reduce your exposure to these triggers, wash bedding regularly, fix leaks, store garbage outside, vacuum and dust weekly. Switch to allergen-proof pillow and mattress covers.
Mold. Mold is an allergen that can trigger asthma symptoms. Reduce your exposure by cleaning visible mold, throwing away moldy items, running a dehumidifier and using the exhaust fan when taking a shower. Clean mold with mild soap, hot water and a firm brush.
Exercise. Staying active is very important to your overall health, especially if you have asthma. But if exercising triggers your asthma symptoms, use your quick-relief medicine 15 to 30 minutes before physical activity.
Emotions. Strong emotions—laughing or crying too hard, anxiety, anger, extreme fear—can increase rapid breathing and trigger asthma symptoms. Stress, both personal and work-related, can be a major trigger, too.