The Top Five Questions About Asthma Triggers

Last updated: February 2020

It seems like I spend most of my “asthma time” focused on triggers. I never know where or when they are going to show up, or how strongly I will react to them. I am always trying to figure out how to avoid, reduce or manage triggers.

What exactly is an asthma trigger?

I define triggers as a thing or action that causes asthma to “happen.”

Some questions that come up about asthma triggers

In my work as an asthma educator, below are the top five questions I’m asked about triggers:

  1. What are common triggers? Triggers are individual, and what triggers my asthma may not trigger your asthma. However, there are many common triggers that are grouped into the below categories:  Irritants such as perfume and cologne, tobacco and fire smoke, air pollution and cleaning products. Allergens include pollen and grasses, dust mites, dogs and cats, and food. Exercise and physical activity. Viral and bacterial infections like the flu or sinusitis. Strong emotions such as laughing hard, crying or feeling anxious. Medications such as beta-blockers, aspirin and pain relievers known as NSAIDS.
  2. What happens when I come in contact with a trigger? When you breathe in a trigger, catch the flu or exercise, the body responds in basically the same way. This is known as S.E.T. - Swelling inside the airways, Extra mucus the clogs the airways, and the Tightening of muscles around the airway. These three reactions narrow the airways making it hard to move air in and out.
  3. Do triggers strike without a warning? The answer is both yes and no. Often, triggers build up over time. I call this the “trigger bucket effect” - whenever you come in contact with a trigger it goes into the bucket. You may not feel symptoms right away, but once the bucket is full you are probably about to have an asthma attack. Other times, you may have a reaction and feel symptoms immediately. (Learn more about early phase and late phase attacks.)
  4. How do I identify triggers? It’s estimated that 60% of people with asthma have allergic asthma, so allergy testing should be the first step. Our allergens change over time, so having testing done every few years is recommended. If you don’t have allergies, keep a journal of where you were, what you ate and how you felt when you had symptoms. It’s important to identify triggers in all of your environments - work, home, school, and every place in between. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider who can help you identify and manage your triggers.
  5. How does reducing triggers help control asthma? The best way to manage asthma is to not to have symptoms, and the best way to not have symptoms is to avoid triggers. If your exposure to triggers is reduced, you may be able to reduce the amount of medication you take as well. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can make a plan to manage them. If triggers can’t be avoided, taking steps to reduce them is just as important. For instance, if your asthma is triggered by viral infections, getting a yearly flu shot is a good way to avoid getting sick. Allergy shots (immunotherapy) may help reduce your reaction to allergens.

Trigger management plays a crucial role in achieving good asthma control, which means asthma symptoms will not  What are some of your triggers, and strategies to avoid them? Let us know in the comments.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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