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Putting Your Finger on the Asthma Trigger

Asthma image

If you have asthma, you can minimize your symptoms and improve your quality of life by avoiding your asthma triggers and working with your doctor to develop a treatment plan.

People with asthma have recurrent episodes of airflow limitation, often from inflamed airways that become narrowed, making it more difficult to move air in and out of their lungs. This can cause wheezing, cough, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. It is important to understand what triggers your symptoms and what makes them go away.

Tobacco smoke, which is an irritant, often aggravates asthma. No one should smoke around you, in your home, or in your car. Your asthma may also be irritated by strong odors or fumes, weather changes, and air pollution.

Viral and bacterial infections, such as the common cold and sinusitis, can make asthma worse.

Strenuous exercise or exposure to cold, dry air can trigger asthma.

Acid reflux, even if you do not experience heartburn, is also an asthma trigger. This diagnosis can be hard to make, and treatment is different from most asthma medications, so talk to your doctor.

Some medications can cause or worsen asthma. These include aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) and beta-blockers (used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and glaucoma).

Even eating certain foods can trigger wheezing in some people. If any foods seem to trigger an asthma attack, avoid eating that food and talk to your doctor.

Emotional anxiety may also increase your asthma symptoms and trigger an attack. Proper rest, diet, and exercise are important for your overall health and can help in managing asthma.

Many people with asthma have allergies, which can trigger asthma symptoms. Common allergens include house dust mites, animal dander, molds, pollen, cockroach droppings, and foods. Your doctor can identify what you are allergic to and recommend ways to avoid exposure to your triggers.

Treatment and Management
Asthma has different causes in different people; therefore, individualized therapy is wise. Personalized plans for treatment may include environmental control measures to avoid your asthma triggers, medication, an asthma action plan, and a partnership among you, your family, your doctor, and other healthcare providers.

Many people with asthma have allergies, which can trigger asthma symptoms.

Since asthma is a chronic disease, it requires ongoing management. This includes using proper medications to prevent and control your asthma symptoms and to reduce airway inflammation. There are two general classes of asthma medications: quick-relief and long-term controller medications. Your doctor may recommend one or a combination of two or more of these medications.

Quick-relief medications are used to provide temporary relief of symptoms. They include bronchodilators and oral corticosteroids. Bronchodilators, generally called “rescue medications,” open up the airways so that more air can flow through. Bronchodilators include betaagonists and anticholinergics and come in inhaled, tablet, liquid, or injectable forms. There are some corticosteroids designed for short-term use that are swallowed or given by injection and that work a bit more slowly to help treat particularly bad inflammation in your airways.

Long-term controller medications are important for many people with asthma and are taken on a regular basis (often daily) to control airway inflammation and treat symptoms in people who have frequent asthma symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids (there are many different ones), cromolyn or nedocromil, and leukotriene modifiers can help control the inflammation that occurs in the airways of most people who have asthma. One medication may work better for you than another. Your doctor can help guide you.

Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists are symptom controllers that open your airways and may have other beneficial effects, but in certain people, they may have some risks. Current recommendations are for them to be used only along with inhaled corticosteroids. Methylxanthines provide modest opening of the airways and may have a mild antiinflammatory effect. Theophylline is the most frequently used methylxanthine. Leukotriene modifiers are also used for airway opening. Omalizumab is an injectable antibody that helps block allergic inflammation. It is used in people with persistent allergic asthma.

Your asthma medications may need to be adjusted as you and your asthma change, so stay in close touch with your doctor. The better informed you are about your asthma triggers and management, the better your asthma symptoms will be. Together, you and your doctor can work to ensure that asthma interferes with your daily life as little as possible.


Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2012.