10+ Asthma Triggers to Avoid

Common culprits such as smoke, medication, and pets may increase your chances of suffering from an asthma attack.

asthma triggers

Some people find that viral infections, changes in weather, strong emotions, or their menstrual cycle worsen asthma symptoms, or even trigger an attack.

© AntonioGuillem | iStock / GettyImages

People with asthma may suffer an asthma attack if they are exposed to certain triggers, which tend to vary from person to person. The following are the most common culprits.

1. Pollen 

Outdoor allergens include pollen and mold. Allergy season, when pollen counts are highest, varies depending on where you live. To limit your exposure to pollen and outdoor mold during allergy season, keep windows closed as much as possible and try to stay indoors around midday, when pollen and some mold spore counts are highest. It may be necessary to increase your medication dose just before and during allergy season if you are sensitive to pollen and outdoor mold.

2. Mold

Indoor mold can grow wherever there is dampness or wetness. To keep the house as dry as possible, make sure faucets, pipes, and other sources of water are not leaking. Clean any surfaces that have mold. Basements, which can be damp, should be dehumidified if possible.

3. Pets

For people who have an allergic response to cats, dogs, or other animals with fur, it is the animals’ flakes of skin (dander) or dried saliva that cause the reaction. The best option for people with asthma triggered by animal dander is not to have a pet, or to have a hypoallergenic pet. For those who do not wish to deprive themselves of pet ownership, some precautions may help. The pet may be kept outdoors, or at minimum, out of the bedroom. Carpets can attract animal hair, dander, and dried saliva, so replace them with wood or tile floors, or keep the pet out of carpeted rooms.

4. Insects

Some people with asthma are allergic to the dried droppings and remains of cockroaches. To make your home as unappealing as possible to cockroaches, never leave food out, keep garbage in a closed container, and fix plumbing leaks. Use poison baits, powders, gels, or pastes to kill cockroaches if you see them.

Dust mites also are a common culprit. Dust mites are microscopic bugs that can live in carpets, furniture, mattresses, and bedding. The mites are harmless to humans, but can trigger allergies and asthma attacks.

5. Smoke 

Smoke from cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or a wood-burning stove or fireplace can trigger an asthma attack in some people. It is best to stay away from people who are smoking, and to keep your home smoke-free. A person with asthma who smokes should quit, and should encourage other people living in the home who smoke to stop as well. Smoking increases the risk for numerous diseases, including cancer and heart disease, as well as COPD.

6 & 7. Strong Odors, and Sprays

Strong odors and sprays, such as perfume, aftershave, scented body lotions, hair spray, talcum powder, paint, new carpet, and others also can be problematic for some people with asthma. Exposure to these irritants should be limited as much as possible.

8. Exercise

To minimize the chance of experiencing symptoms while exercising or engaging in sports, be sure to spend about 10 minutes warming up before engaging in vigorous exercise. Check the air quality and pollen levels if you are allergic to pollen, and try to exercise during times when air quality is good and pollen levels are low.

Many people with asthma also use their rescue inhaler 10 minutes prior to exercising, which decreases the chances of an attack during exercise and also improves exercise performance for many.

9. Medications

Some people with asthma are sensitive to certain medications. Drugs that can trigger asthma symptoms include beta-blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are used for pain relief and include common over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Aspirin and NSAIDs trigger asthma symptoms in about 3 to 5 percent of adults with asthma.

For people who are bothered by any of these medications there are alternatives. Your physician can make specific recommendations.

10. Sulfites in Foods

Some foods and drinks contain sulfite compounds. These compounds work as a preservative to prevent discoloration, and can be found in beer, wine, processed potatoes, dried fruit, sauerkraut, and shrimp. About 5 percent of people with asthma have a worsening of symptoms when they eat foods containing sulfites. The only remedy for these individuals is to avoid sulfite-containing foods. Foods and beverages that contain sulfites must indicate this on the label.

Other Asthma Triggers

Some people find that viral infections, changes in weather, strong emotions, or their menstrual cycle worsen asthma symptoms, or even trigger an attack.

For more information on the prevention and treatment of asthma, purchase COPD, Asthma and Other Lung Disorders at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.

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Holly Strawbridge

Holly Strawbridge has been managing editor of Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor and was also ME of Cleveland Clinic Women’s Heart Advisor. Previously, she contributed regularly to both publications, as well … Read More

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