Researchers are yet to discover what triggers asthma. But, what we know is that asthma is a long-term or chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. There could be several possible causes of asthma which may vary from person to person.
In general, asthma generally occurs when your airways come into contact with a trigger and become narrow, inflamed, and filled with mucus. Read on and get to know some common asthma attack triggers you need to avoid.
What Triggers Asthma?
If you have asthma, you should know what triggers asthma so that you can take adequate measures to avoid them. As a result, you can expect to have fewer and less severe asthma attacks.
Following are some of the most common asthma attack triggers:
Several people with asthma are sensitive to some medications that can trigger an asthma attack. If you have asthma, you need to know what medications may be your triggers. Please don’t stop taking those medications without consulting your doctor or unless you are sure that they are the triggers.
Following is the list of medications that are known to trigger asthma or related symptoms:
- Aspirin or any pain relievers
- ACE inhibitors
If you have severe asthma, talk to your doctor before starting any new medicine, even if they are over-the-counter drugs. If you know what medication is triggering your symptoms, kindly ensure that your doctor records the problem on your chart. Do inform your pharmacist about any reactions you had before starting a new medication.
In about 80% of people with asthma, an intense workout can narrow down their airways. Exercise is often considered the most common asthma trigger. Exercise-induced asthma causes certain symptoms such as cough, chest tightness, and breathing trouble within the first 5 - 15 minutes of starting exercise.
For most people, these symptoms generally go away within the next 30 - 60 minutes of exercise. But research suggests that about 50% of people with exercise-induced asthma might have another asthma attack 6 - 10 hours later. You can prevent this by having a slow warmup.
In case you have severe asthma and you haven’t been active yet, talk to your doctor first regarding choosing the right activities and the best way to monitor your breathing.
During chilly winters, kindly avoid exercising outdoors as exposure to cold weather could trigger asthma symptoms.
Substances that cause allergies (called allergens) are amongst the most common asthma triggers. When you inhale something that you are allergic to, you may experience asthma symptoms. You should avoid or limit your exposure to known allergens to minimize the odds of having asthma episodes or prevent it in the first place.
Some of the common allergens you need to avoid getting to contact with include:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
If you think your asthma might be triggered by any of the above-listed allergens, ask your doctor about undergoing allergy testing.
Cold air, dry air is a common asthma trigger and can lead to bad asthma flare-ups. This is specifically true for those people with exercise-induced asthma or who are indulged in any winter sport.
Hot, humid air can also be a significant problem. In some places, sunlight and heat mix with pollutants to form ground-level ozone. This type of ozone could be a strong trigger for asthma.
Wet, windy weather can also cause problems. Wet weather stimulates the growth of mold, and wind can carry mold and pollen through the air.
If you think you might be responsible for your asthma, talk to your doctor.
- Other Health Conditions
Certain comorbidities can also exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. These include:
- Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Food Allergies
- Sulfites in food
- Food-induced anaphylaxis
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Nasal polyps
- Respiratory Infections
- Flu (influenza)
- Sinusitis or sinus infections
- Sore throats
- Tobacco Smoke
People who smoke are highly susceptible to developing asthma. If you smoke with asthma, it may aggravate your asthma symptoms like coughing and wheezing. The babies of women who smoked during pregnancy are at significant risk of wheezing. The lung function of babies who smoked during pregnancy can also be affected. If you have asthma and you still smoke, smoking cessation is an important step you can consider to keep your lungs protected.
- Outdoor Air Pollution
Outdoor air pollution is also one of the most common asthma triggers. The outdoor pollution may come from a wide variety of sources, including cars, factories, or wildfire smoke. Wildfire smoke from burning wood or other plants is composed of several toxic gases and small particles. Inhaling too much of this smoke may trigger an asthma attack.
- Food and Food Additives
Food allergies may lead to mild-to-severe life-threatening reactions, but they rarely cause asthma without any other symptoms. People with food allergies are likely to experience a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Following is the list of certain foods commonly associated with allergic symptoms:
- Cow's milk
- Tree nuts
- Fresh fruits
- Shrimp and other shellfish
Food preservatives or food additives can also trigger asthma in some people, especially sulfite additives including potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite - most of which are widely used in food processing or preparation.
Once you find out what food triggers your asthma, you can avoid their consumption and keep asthma symptoms from worsening.
- Sinusitis or Other respiratory Tract Infections
Much as asthma causes inflammation of your airways, sinusitis causes inflammation in the mucus membranes that line the airways. This causes the membranes to produce more mucus. If you have asthma and your sinuses have got inflamed, your airways can too. Receiving immediate medical care for a sinus infection can improve your asthma symptoms.
- Feeling and Expressing Strong Emotions
This is a fact that when people experience strong emotions, their breathing changes, even if they don’t have asthma. It may cause wheezing, shortness of breath, or other symptoms in people with asthma. Some common strong emotions that may trigger an asthma attack include:
How Do These Triggers Make Asthma Worse?
As discussed earlier, asthma makes your airways inflamed, narrow, and sensitive. They react to a wide range of external triggers, which is what triggers asthma attacks. Your airways constrict and become more inflamed, mucus obstructs them, and this worsens your asthma symptoms.
You may experience symptoms of asthma immediately after you have come into contact with a trigger or many days or weeks later.
The bodies of different people with asthma react differently to asthma attack triggers. It is possible that something that causes serious problems for you, does not even bother others. You may also have numerous triggers and other people with asthma may have only one or none at all.
While avoiding asthma attack triggers is considered a good way to deal with asthma, the most appropriate way to to take medications and follow treatments exactly as recommended by your healthcare provider through your asthma action plan.
How Can You Identify Your Asthma Attack Triggers?
Try and find out what was going around you when you had an asthma attack - this is the first and the foremost step to identify your asthma attack triggers.
Your doctor can also order blood tests or recommend you to use a device called a peak flow meter, which monitors how much air you exhale and how rapidly it comes out. It can help you monitor changes in your breathing and the onset of asthma symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider if you can use a peak flow meter to narrow down the possible triggers for your asthma.
It may not be possible to identify all your asthma triggers and they can even change. For instance, you might not be allergic to tree pollen as a child, but now it has become something to be concerned about.
Identifying your asthma triggers isn’t enough; some people may face difficulty avoiding triggers in certain situations. For instance, you may notice that the cleaning product used in your workplace is triggering your asthma symptoms - and this is something which could be really difficult to avoid.
For this reason, you are advised to work with their doctors to find out the best strategies to avoid triggers or at least reduce the amount of time you usually spend near the triggers. Doctors will also help ensure that you take the appropriate medication when an asthma attack does occur.
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Published by Zoe Stella