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Do You Know What Makes Your Asthma Worse?

Asthma image

An asthma trigger is anything that makes your asthma worse. When you encoun­ter one of your triggers, it can cause a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms, which is often called an asthma attack, episode, or flare-up.

Knowing what causes your asthma symptoms is an important step to con­trolling your asthma. Common asthma triggers include respiratory infections, allergens, irritants, exercise, and strong emotions. Your doctor can help you identify what makes your asthma worse. Once you know what causes your symp­toms, you can work with your doctor to come up with a plan for managing your asthma and avoiding your triggers.

Here’s a breakdown of the most com­mon asthma triggers, along with some tips for reducing your exposure to them.

bullet Medical Conditions Respiratory infections, such as a cold, flu, or sinus infection, are the most common cause of asthma symptoms leading to an asthma flare-up. Washing your hands frequently and avoiding people who are sick will help to reduce your exposure to cold and flu. However, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. Pregnancy hormones and other medical conditions, such as acid reflux, can also worsen asthma symptoms.

bullet Food & Medicines Asthma can be triggered by food allergies and certain medications. Discuss with your doctor any over-the-counter or prescription medicines you take, such as aspirin, fever-reducers, or anti-inflammatories, as well as any alternative therapies or herbal remedies you use, as they may have an impact on your asthma.

bullet Smoke All types of smoke can make it hard to breathe, including smoke from wood-burning fireplaces, campfires, burning leaves, cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. If you smoke, you should make a plan to quit. If you don’t smoke but live with someone who does, ask that he or she smoke outside, and discuss other ways to prevent or limit your exposure to tobacco smoke.

bullet Weather, Pollen, & Air Pollution Changes in the season can bring on an asthma episode due to increased pollen in the air. Limit your time outdoors when pollen counts are high, especially during spring and fall. Extreme temperatures; cold, windy, or stormy weather; high humidity; and air pollution, including smog, vehicle ex­haust, and other fumes, can also cause problems for asthma fighters. Be pre­pared for the weather and outdoor air conditions before you leave your home by checking the pollen counts and air quality index for your area.

bullet Animals Dander and saliva from animals with fur or feathers – includ­ing cats, dogs, ferrets, hamsters, Guinea pigs, bunnies, mice, and birds – are common allergy trig­gers, and for some people, they can cause asthma symptoms. Reduce your expo­sure to pet allergens by vacuuming and damp dusting weekly. Try to keep your pets out of your bedroom and any other rooms where you spend a lot of time.

bullet Pests Dust mites, cockroaches, and rodents aren’t just annoying; these little guys, which can be found in your home, workplace, and school, can trigger asthma symp­toms. To reduce your exposure to these trig­gers, wash bedding regularly, fix leaks, store garbage outside, vacuum and dust weekly, and use allergen-proof pillow and mattress covers.

bullet Mold Mold is another common allergen that can trigger asthma symp­toms. You can reduce your exposure to mold by cleaning any visible mold in your home with mild soap, hot water, and a strong brush. Throw away moldy items that cannot be cleaned. To help prevent future mold growth, run a dehumidifier, fix leaking pipes and faucets, and turn on the ex­haust fan when you take a shower.

bullet Exercise Staying active is very important to your overall health and well-being, especially for people with asthma. If you know that exercising or playing sports triggers your asthma symptoms, use your quick-relief medicine 15 to 30 minutes before engaging in physical activity, if prescribed. Remember to monitor the local air quality if you plan to exercise or play outside.

bullet Emotions Emotional ups and downs are part of life. But before you lose your composure, remember that strong emotions can increase rapid breathing and trigger asthma symp­toms. Stress, both personal and work related, can be a major trigger as well. The same goes for laughing or crying too hard, yelling, and feeling anxious, angry, and afraid.

bullet Strong Odors Scents from perfumes, deodorants, and cleaning supplies can leave you gasping for air. Scents from gas stoves, scented candles, incense, hairspray, and air freshen­ers can also cause asthma symptoms. When possible, choose cleaning and personal care products that are both odor- and fragrance-free.


For more information on lung health, visit or call the American Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine at (800) 586-4872 to speak with a lung health expert.

Source: American Lung Association,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2014.