Want to Prevent Asthma Attacks? Know Your Triggers

September 2022

Asthma is a condition that causes the tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs to sometimes become narrow and inflamed. When this happens, you may cough, wheeze, or feel chest pain or tightness.

Asthma attacks happen when these symptoms worsen, often as a result of exposure to a trigger, such as cigarette smoke or exercise.

To help prevent asthma attacks, learn more about common asthma triggers — and how to avoid them.

Colds and flus

Upper respiratory infections such as colds, flus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can trigger an asthma attack. Your best defense is preventing respiratory infections whenever possible. Get your annual flu shot, and take steps to protect yourself from colds and flus. These include the following:

Tobacco smoke

Cigarette smoke irritates the lungs and is known to trigger asthma attacks. In addition, smoking may make you more prone to developing asthma. According to the American Lung Association, 17% of U.S. adults with asthma are smokers, while only 13.7% of U.S. adults without asthma are smokers.

If you’re a smoker who has asthma, the best thing you can do for yourself — and your loved ones — is to quit smoking.

However, it’s not enough for just you to quit. Secondhand smoke is unsafe for everyone, but it’s especially problematic for asthmatics. If anyone in your household smokes, encourage them to quit — or ask them to smoke outside, away from open windows.

Outdoor air pollution

Outdoor air pollution comes has many sources — from car exhaust and power plant emissions to wildfires and wood-burning stoves.

Exact amounts of various pollutants (mainly ground-level ozone and particulates) vary from hour to hour and day to day depending on a variety of factors, including the temperature and weather patterns.

If you want to exercise outdoors, be sure to check the air quality in your local area and plan accordingly.

Allergies

Things such as dust mites, pollen, and pet fur aren’t necessarily asthma triggers, but they can be if you have established allergies to any of these. While you don’t want to waste time and money dodging these everyday allergens, the extra effort is worth it if you have an actual allergy.

The steps you need to take depend on what type of allergies you have. For example, if you have dust mite allergies, you can do the following:

  • Cover your mattress and pillow in dust-proof covers.
  • Wash your bedding regularly in hot water.
  • Run a dehumidifier to keep your home’s humidity below 60% (dust mites thrive in humid environments).

If you are allergic to pollen, you can take the following steps to control spring and fall allergies:

  • Keep your windows closed during prime pollen times.
  • Plan your outdoor activities for times of day when the pollen count is lower.
  • Change your clothes after outdoor activities.

If you aren’t sure whether you have allergies, see an allergist for proper testing and diagnosis.

Mold

Unlike other common allergens, mold can trigger asthma attacks whether or not you have an actual mold allergy. This means that everyone in your household with asthma should take steps to reduce household mold. As mold thrives on moisture, reducing moisture in the air and on surfaces is the key to combating it. Here’s how:

  • When the humidity exceeds 50%, run a dehumidifier or air conditioner.
  • Fix any leaking sinks, toilets, or washing machines promptly to prevent moisture buildup inside walls and under floors.
  • If you find mold on walls, ceilings, or surfaces, clean it promptly by scrubbing with water and detergent and then drying thoroughly.
  • Run an exhaust fan or open a window whenever you shower — and don’t turn off the fan or close the window until the humidity in the bathroom has returned to normal.

While you can’t change the fact that you have asthma, knowing your triggers — and avoiding them whenever possible — can help you lead a happier, healthier, and more active life.

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