Environmental Asthma Triggers

Working Together

We spoke to asthma patients and health professionals (such as physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists and health educators) about important messages for managing asthma. This brochure captures some of the ideas they shared, and is intended for patients and health professionals to use together to improve their partnership in managing asthma.

We learned people may have different views about asthma

What Asthma Patients & Parents Said What Doctors & Other Health Professionals Said Ideas for the Patient and the Health Care Team
How do I manage my asthma triggers? Knowing and managing triggers is a key part of asthma management. Focus on the triggers or factors in the environment that bring on asthma symptoms. Triggers are different for each person. They can be indoors or outdoors. "Examples of Triggers Reported by Asthma Patients" lists many kinds of triggers that affect people with asthma.
The way I finally figured out what my triggers were was through trial and error. There are many ways to help a person discover his or her own personal triggers. Health professionals and patients should discuss the possible triggers of everyday life - at home, work, school, etc. Allergy testing may be helpful. Make note of activities and locations when asthma symptoms get worse.
I have a lot going on. I can try to keep a diary, but I don't see doing it for very long. Log sheets or diaries used along with a peak flow meter can monitor how triggers and medications affect asthma. Patients can use a log, diary or notebook to track peak flow scores, medications and asthma triggers for about a month or until their asthma is under control. Work out a written asthma action plan that will explain what to do when symptoms get worse. (See "What is an Asthma Action Plan?" in the "Managing Asthma" brochure of this series for more details.)
My doctor talked to me about triggers that affect many asthma patients, asked me if I smoke or live with people who smoke, and also asked me about allergies and pets. Doctors and health professionals should talk about asthma triggers as a general concern, as well as those that are specific to each individual patient. Explore both general and person-specific triggers. Some common triggers include dust mites and mold, pets, strong odors, cockroaches, cigarette and cigar smoke, viral or sinus infections, emotions, weather changes, pollution, and exercise. (See "Examples of Triggers" for a more extensive list.)
I'm not going to give away our cat; he's a member of the family. Once a person knows his or her triggers, it is possible to develop strategies to avoid them. Recommendations have to be practical. It may be possible to create a "safe haven" or space where triggers are not present. For example, a person whose cat triggers their asthma can keep the cat out of the room where they sleep.

Examples of Triggers Reported by Asthma Patients

Allergens

  • Pollen from trees, grasses, hay, ragweed
  • Mold
  • Animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, birds, rats, mice
  • Dust mites
  • Insects such as cockroaches
  • Sensitivity to sulfites, food preservatives, aspirin, or food dyes
  • Food such as nuts, chocolate, eggs, orange juice, fish, milk, peanut butter

Infections and Medical Problems

  • Colds, other viruses
  • Flu
  • Bronchitis
  • Tonsillitis
  • Sinusitis
  • Coughing
  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux disease

Tobacco Smoke

  • Cigarettes, cigars, pipes- yours or someone else's

Dust

  • Cloth-upholstered furniture, bedding, carpets, draperies
  • Brooms and dusters
  • Vacuum cleaners without special air filters

Air Pollution

  • Traffic - idling cars, trucks or buses
  • Smoke-filled rooms
  • Woodburning stoves/fireplaces
  • Unvented gas/kerosene heaters
  • Ozone/smog
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Sulfur dioxide

Weather

  • Cold air
  • Weather changes
  • Humidity

Exercise

  • Especially in cold weather

Nighttime

  • Lying down
  • Accumulating mucus

Emotions

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Laughing or crying
  • Depression
  • Stress

On The Job

  • Wood products
  • Metals/metal fumes
  • Cotton, flax, hemp
  • Mold on or in decaying hay; water damaged, or badly cleaned parts of buildings
  • Chemicals in paints, cleaning products
  • Dust from wood, flour, latex gloves
  • Industrial chemicals

Around The House/School

  • Vapors from cleaning products, paint, paint thinner, liquid chlorine bleach
  • Sprays from furniture polish, starch, cleaners, room deodorizers
  • Spray deodorants, perfumes, hair sprays, talcum powder, scented cosmetics
  • Vapors from furnishings (carpeting, cabinets)
  • Pesticide sprays
  • Incense and scented candles
  • Chalk dust

Asthma Resources