avoiding asthma triggers

Intentionally Avoiding Asthma Triggers

Last updated: November 2019

Living with asthma, we often find ourselves in situations where we’re faced with a decision: when suddenly or unexpectedly exposed to a trigger we can continue on with what we intended to be doing, or we can opt-out of the trigger containing environment and (un)voluntarily make the better choice for our health.

This is one of the most challenging things I have to deal with on a regular basis, even around people who are aware of my asthma (and chemical sensitivity) triggers!

Avoiding asthma triggers (a.k.a opting-out)

And that is how I’ve found myself, at 9:48 pm, already in my bedroom at the cabin — because apparently the Vaseline-intensive care my aunt began to lather up with in a common space was not fragrance-free (as I’d expect of Vaseline, no?), but actually chamomile. In her defense, she also hadn’t realized this, but when the issue was realized it was (of course) my problem.

I stood up and said well, I have to leave then, and went to my room—a far enough “safe” distance away.

Essentially, this was a trigger “opt-out” to avoid both the asthma symptoms and those symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivity that I experience when exposed to fragrances and other chemicals. These symptoms include headache, face itching/burning, and shakiness.1 I hope to write more about multiple chemical sensitivity, sometimes also called idiopathic environmental intolerance, as a diagnosis in a future post. It’s certainly got some controversy in the medical literature but also has support as a diagnosis.1 At any rate, some people experience adverse events when exposed to various chemical compounds — fragrances, cleaners, fumes, etc.

Making sacrifices to avoid triggers

Johns Hopkins Medicine states:1

Exposure to certain chemicals may cause reactions similar to those experienced with allergies”, which does not mean sensitivities and allergies are the same! Symptoms include headaches, rashes, muscle and joint pain, memory loss, confusion, fatigue and… ba-dum-bum, asthma.

So, due to the symptoms I experience, both asthmatic and not, I do my best to avoid these things where possible… But the “trigger opt-out” is truly not always possible, or realistic.

Avoiding asthma triggers comes with sacrifices — in this case, not spending time where I want to be. In other situations, it may be giving up my seat on the bus to avoid triggers, or, like in my article “Hot-Boxed Out of a Concert”, leaving a room — like a concert — entirely for my physical well-being. It is extremely frustrating to have to make these choices on a regular basis, because it makes me feel as if on some occasions asthma is dictating my choices, not me.

In reality, I am still making a choice to avoid asthma triggers

Sure, it is not the choice I want to be making, but it is a choice I am making for myself. I could stay and struggle, but I could also leave and make a better choice for me. And my problem, my asthma, is mine. It is helpful if others around me make choices that are healthy for me, but it is my responsibility to manage my health and choose how I navigate those situations when they do arise.

Can this be perceived as asthma getting the upper hand, or is it me taking the upper hand over my impending asthma symptoms if I do nothing? Do I simply have to reframe how I’m thinking about these trigger opt-outs?

I’m not sure. It’s another asthma compromise that I don’t want to make. And again, I have to choose whether or not I want to re-frame my thinking on this one.

And unlike most situations, I’m undecided on where I’m at.

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