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Asthma Triggers

One of the most important things you can do to manage your asthma is to work with your healthcare provider to identify and minimize your exposure to your asthma triggers.

Triggers are allergens, irritants, or conditions that cause your asthma symptoms to worsen. It's important to know what triggers your asthma symptoms. Triggers vary from person to person, so you will have to learn which ones are problems for you. While it's impossible to avoid every single asthma trigger, there may be things you can do to help.

Below you'll find tips on dealing with various types of asthma triggers. If you are able to reduce your exposure to some of these triggers but still experience asthma symptoms, take the ASTHMA CONTROL TEST™* and share the results with your healthcare provider.

Select the triggers below to find out more.

  • PETS


Many people find that foods containing the preservative sulfite can trigger their asthma symptoms. If you have been suffering from flare-ups, take a look at what you are eating and drinking. It may take a while to figure out what foods—if any—trigger your asthma symptoms. Tracking the foods you eat and how you react to them can give you valuable information about possible food triggers. Some common culprits are:

  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Shrimp
  • Dried fruit
  • Processed potatoes
Certain Foods Can Trigger Asthma


Many people with asthma are allergic to the dried droppings and remains of cockroaches.

  • Keep all food out of your bedroom.
  • Keep food and garbage in closed containers (never leave food out).
  • Use bait or traps to eliminate cockroaches.
  • If a spray is used to kill roaches, stay out of the room until the odor goes away.
Cockroaches Can Trigger Asthma


Dust mites are tiny bugs you cannot see that live in cloth and carpet. Pillows, mattresses, bedding, and rugs or carpet all attract dust and invisible dust mites that can trigger asthma symptoms in individuals allergic to dust mites. To reduce the number of dust mites in your house, try the following:

  • Dust and vacuum your house frequently, using a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter.
  • Encase your mattress and pillow in special dust-proof covers.
  • Replace old pillows with new ones.
  • Wash the sheets and blankets each week in hot water.
  • During the day, keep dust off your bed by covering the entire bed with a bedspread. At night, take off the bedspread and put it in another room.
  • Keep stuffed animals and toys out of the bed.
  • Wash stuffed animals and toys regularly in hot water.
  • Reduce room humidity to less than 50 percent by using a dehumidifier.
Dust Mites Can Trigger Asthma


Moisture causes mold, so getting rid of excess water in your house or workplace may help get rid of mold.

  • Fix leaky faucets, pipes, and other sources of water.
  • Clean mold off surfaces with a cleaner that has bleach in it.
  • Replace or wash moldy shower curtains.
  • Open a window or turn on the exhaust fan when you shower.
  • Open shades to allow as much sunlight as possible in the room or, if possible, place moldy objects outdoors in the sun to neutralize mold.
  • Reduce room humidity to less than 50 percent by using a dehumidifier.
Indoor Molds Can Trigger Asthma


Some people are allergic to the dander (the flakes of skin), dried saliva, or urine that comes from animals with fur or feathers. Even feathers in a pillow can cause allergic reactions or asthma symptoms. Giving up your beloved pet may not be an option, so if your symptoms get worse around your pet, try the following tips:

  • Avoid having too many pets; the more pets you have, the more allergens there will be.
  • When your pet comes in from outdoors, wipe it with a damp cloth.
  • Bathing your dog or cat weekly may cut down on its dander. (Your cat may prefer a damp-cloth rubdown.)
  • Ask someone who doesn't have asthma to do all pet grooming and bathing outdoors.
  • Ask someone who doesn't have asthma to change your cat's litter box.
  • Don't allow pets in your bedroom.
  • If possible, make a comfortable home for your pet outdoors.
  • Consider replacing carpets and upholstered furniture with washable rugs and slipcovers, or keep your pets out of the rooms where carpets and upholstered furniture are located.
  • Vacuum often, ideally using a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) filter.
  • Put HEPA air filters in the rooms where your pet spends the most time, and clean them frequently. They may help to remove dander, pollen, and dust particles from the air.
  • Change your home's heating and air-conditioning filters regularly.


More than half of the approximately 25.7 million Americans with asthma also have allergies, including allergies to pollen and outdoor mold. If you're one of them, allergy season can be tough on your asthma. And if you have multiple allergies, it also can be long: tree and flower pollens cause problems in early spring, grass pollens strike in late spring and early summer, and weed pollens are active in late summer. While you can't avoid pollen entirely, the following tips may help you weather the seasons:

  • Try to keep your windows closed. A strong wind may carry pollen right through an open window into your home.
  • If possible, stay indoors with your windows closed during the late morning and afternoon hours, when ragweed and other pollen and mold-spore counts are highest.
  • Heat, humidity, and air pollution can cause your asthma symptoms to worsen, so if you have air conditioning, try to keep it on.

Be sure to ask your healthcare provider if you need to adjust how you're managing your asthma before allergy season starts.

Certain Foods Can Trigger Asthma


If you have asthma, you may be very sensitive to strong odors or chemicals in the air.

  • If possible, do not use a wood-burning stove, kerosene heater, or fireplace.
  • Try to stay away from strong odors and sprays, such as perfume, talcum powder, hair spray, and paints.
  • Ask your family members to limit their use of perfumed products.
Strong Odors Can Trigger Asthma


If you have asthma, it's important not to smoke. Cigarette smoke makes your asthma worse by irritating the airways of your lungs. Smoking may also permanently damage your airways. To reduce your exposure to smoke, try the following:

  • If you smoke and have asthma, the best thing you can do is quit.
  • Ask people not to smoke around you. This can be difficult, but it's really important to speak up and let them know that their smoke is more than just a nuisance to you—it can trigger your asthma and make it worse, and that is a serious problem.
  • If a family member smokes and refuses to quit, ask that person not to smoke inside the house, car, and any enclosed spaces.
Smoke Can Trigger Asthma


For many years, it was believed that people with asthma should not or could not exercise. Today, healthcare providers recommend that most people, including people with asthma, get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Asthma symptoms triggered by exercise usually occur within a few minutes after stopping exercise, reach a peak of severity about 10 to 15 minutes later, and may continue for up to an hour. Planning and adjusting your exercise carefully—under your healthcare provider's supervision—can help you find an exercise routine that helps minimize asthma symptoms.

Follow the suggestions below to help make a flare-up less likely:

  • Warm up for about 5 to 10 minutes before you exercise by stretching or walking.
  • Cool down afterward. A 10-minute cooldown allows your lungs to adjust to temperature changes and decreases the risk that your asthma symptoms will flare up. If your asthma symptoms get worse during the cooldown period, it is important that you follow your healthcare provider's instructions immediately rather than taking the time to finish the cooldown exercises.
  • Pace yourself. If you can't carry on a conversation during your exercise session, you're probably working too hard.
  • Make sure to take any prescribed medication according to instructions from your healthcare provider. He or she may recommend you use it prior to exercising. This can help prevent asthma symptoms from occurring when you exercise.


If colds and infections trigger your asthma, try the following:

  • Talk with your healthcare professional about developing an Asthma Action Plan to follow when you start feeling sick.
  • Consult your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot every year.
  • Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid contact with others who have colds or the flu.
Colds and Infections Can Trigger Asthma


If you are sensitive to very cold or very hot temperatures, try the following:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf while outdoors on cold, wintry days.
  • If warm weather irritates you, try to avoid other triggers during very hot days, such as high pollen or mold counts. Use the air conditioner during those days rather than opening windows.
Weather Can Trigger Asthma


Stress is a common asthma trigger, as it can make you feel short of breath and may cause your asthma symptoms to become worse. While you can't avoid stress entirely, you can develop ways to help
manage it.

  • Identify the main causes of stress, including money problems, relationship issues, and busy schedules, and try to minimize them. Seek professional help for those that you find too overwhelming to deal with.
  • Try to avoid situations that trigger stress.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Exercise is an excellent way to relieve stress; however, it can also trigger asthma symptoms in certain people. Speak with your healthcare provider about creating a safe, stress-reducing exercise program.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in refined sugars, and try to get enough sleep. Both will provide you with more energy for dealing with stress.
  • Manage your time effectively so you are not overloaded with too much responsibility. Free up time for yourself by delegating tasks to family members or co-workers.
  • Seek social support from friends or family members whenever possible.
Stress Can Trigger Asthma

*ASTHMA CONTROL TEST is a trademark of QualityMetric Incorporated.

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