A woman surrounded by perfume, smoke and dust

Do Asthma Triggers Change Over Time?

As a teenager, I got together with a bunch of fellow asthmatic teenagers. This was back in 1985, during my stay at an asthma hospital. I was a patient there because that is what they did back in the 80s when you had difficulty controlling asthma.

And, while we mostly talked about non-asthma-related topics, we sometimes discussed asthma. One of the first asthma-related topics we discussed was asthma triggers. As we started listing them off, it was neat seeing how many asthma triggers we had in common.

I listed my triggers.

  • Strong smells, such as grandma’s perfume
  • Tree pollen (springtime)
  • Mold
  • Laughing
  • Dust mites
  • The laundry aisle at grocery stores
  • The basement of our house (dust mites, mold, etc.)
  • Cutting grass
  • Smoke from cigarettes or the chimney
  • Colds or lung infections
  • Wood/saw dust

And my asthma friends listed many of the same things. So, that was the first time I realized that those of us with asthma have many of the same triggers.

But some of us listed “unique to us” triggers. An example here is one of my childhood asthma friends who listed sleeping as one of his triggers. I later learned that he had gastrointestinal reflux (GERD), and this was worse at night when he was lying flat.

My unique trigger was an itchy chin and neck. Although, years later, I realized I was not alone with this trigger either.

My asthma triggers changed over time

So, this discussion took place in January 1985. That was 38 years ago. Today, as I list my triggers, I realize that my triggers have changed with time.

My triggers today are:

  • Colds or lung infections
  • Mold
  • Smoke
  • Dust mites

And, with the exception of colds or lung infections, the asthma symptoms that I experience are quite mild compared to back in 1985. For instance, today I might experience mild chest tightness when exposed to dust mites and smoke. Although, when I am exposed to the other listed triggers, my asthma attacks can become quite severe.

My definition of "severe asthma" is needing steroids. On the contrary, all my asthma attacks were severe back in 1985. That is until I was able to get my asthma under control.

Why did my triggers change?

I think the answer is "improved asthma control." I think with better asthma control, my lungs are less sensitive to my triggers. So, today I can laugh without experiencing asthma. I can cut the grass without it triggering my asthma. I can walk down the laundry detergent aisle in a store without it triggering my asthma.

Unfortunately, despite good asthma control, colds and molds still trigger severe asthma attacks. Although, for the most part, I am able to avoid these triggers most of the time, and I am happy about that.

That is why I wear an N95 mask when I am seeing patients in the emergency room. In my mind, this reduces my exposure to this trigger. Still, my kids do sometimes bring respiratory viruses home from school.

What about you?

For those who have had asthma for many years, have your asthma triggers changed over time? What do you think explains the change? Please let us know in the comments below.

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