Triggers of Asthma: How and What to Avoid

Triggers of Asthma: How and What to Avoid
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Asthma is a condition of the respiratory tract where a person can have attacks of labored breathing, excessive coughing and wheezing. Swelling of the mucous membranes and spasms in the bronchial tubes are a result of triggers of asthma. People with asthma have very sensitive airways that react to certain triggers that cause the symptoms to begin or worsen. Below are some of the common triggers that cause asthma attacks.

Allergies Cause Asthma

People react to allergens that cause the body to go awry and provoke symptoms. The body responds by activating inflammatory cell reactions to fight the invader. The cells involved are called eosinophils, mast cells, lymphocytes, basophils, neutrophils and macrophages. When needed, these cells are called to arm the body of the invaders. In response to this battle between the body and the invaders, the tissue lining of the respiratory tract become swollen, mucus is formed and air doesn’t move as swiftly as it should. This battle is caused by allergic triggers such as pollen, mold, animal dander, house dust and mites, cockroach droppings and certain foods.

Allergists can perform tests on patients to “get to the root” of a patient’s triggers. Skin allergy tests can be done by scratching, pricking or an intradermal shot of the allergen into the skin to see if a reaction occurs. For some patients a blood test called RAST (radio adsorbent spectrophotometry) is ordered to view a panel of allergens. It measures the amount of IgE (allergy provoking antibody) in the blood. All in all, after the doctor can determine a person’s triggers; medication can be given to abate the reaction, immunotherapy (where you get injections of a small dose of the allergen to become desensitized to the trigger), or avoidance of the trigger can come into play to prevent asthma attacks.

Irritants Are Offenders

Very much like allergens, irritants such as smoke, strong odors from chemicals (household cleaners, perfumes, paints and other fumes), air pollutants and changing weather (temperature, barometric pressure, humidity and strong winds) can cause asthma. Some of these irritants can be avoided by changing to natural ingredients for personal use and home cleaning. Other issues like air pollution and the weather are harder to avoid, so in this case, asthma medications may need to be used.

Drugs Can Cause Asthma

Some people are very sensitive to medications and certain drugs can start or worsen asthma symptoms. Such medications as aspirin and NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen can aggravate asthma. People taking beta-blockers for high blood pressure and heart disease will find that some of these drugs can make their asthma symptoms worse.

Food Triggers

Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, but if you have an allergy or sensitivity to a food, it can become a nightmare. The most common foods that cause allergies and asthma are corn, eggs, milk, nuts, wheat and fish (shellfish). Foods usually manifest a reaction as swelling of the lips and mouth, rashes and sometimes wheezing. Food allergies are hard to pinpoint so keeping a food diary is useful. When you find a food that is offensive - it’s time to avoid it. Preservatives and food dyes are a problem for asthmatics, especially Yellow No. 5.

Exercise Can Induce Asthma

Exercise induced asthma is a problem for some people. The type of exercise you choose will make a difference on how well you tolerate it. Activities that involve brief spurts of action, followed by rests are much less apt to trigger asthma attacks. For example, people who choose to play baseball or golf may have less of a problem than if the chosen sport is basketball or running. So often it is the cold air that irritates sensitive airways, so weather is a major factor. Breathing through the nose, instead of the mouth is good as the air is warmed and you may not react to it.

Illness is a Trigger

Watch out during the cold and flu season, as any infection or virus can cause irritation of the airways. Upper respiratory infections can cause asthma and make breathing worse.

The Bottom Line…

Asthma is a chronic condition, but it can be controlled. Watching for triggers of asthma and avoiding what you can will make life more comfortable. A thoughtful measure for an asthmatic is to not wait until the damage is done, but preventing it when possible.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology “Tips to Remember: Asthma Triggers and Management”

The Ohio State University Medical Center “Triggers for Asthma Attacks”

The Allergy Self-Help Book by Sharon Faelten and Editors of Prevention Magazine, Rodale Press, 1983

Photo courtesy of rollingroscoe