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Common asthma triggers – and how to avoid them


Common asthma triggers – and how to avoid them

Cigarette smoke, exercise and cold weather are just a few of the triggers that can prompt asthma symptoms. The good news is that recognizing your triggers – and figuring out how to avoid them – can reduce flare-ups and help keep you breathing easy.
“Knowledge is everything,” says Tidelands Health internal medicine physician Dr. Taylor Polk, who offers care at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at The Market Common. “Knowing the triggers and what you should avoid can help you get the upper hand.”
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. During an attack, the airways become inflamed and may narrow, making it harder to breathe. Common asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest tightness and wheezing.
There is no cure, but with treatment and an asthma action plan, the condition can be managed, says Dr. Polk.
“Managing asthma requires paying attention to your symptoms, knowing your triggers and taking your medicine,” Dr. Polk says.
The most common triggers and ways to avoid them include:

Viruses such as flu, COVID-19 and RSV

Upper respiratory infections and viruses such as flu, COVID-19 and RSV can trigger an asthma attack. Such illnesses can cause inflammation in the airways, which can lead to spasms and wheezing. 

Take action: Get vaccinated and consider wearing a mask if you’re going to be around someone who might be sick or put you at risk.

Tobacco smoke, perfumes and lung irritants

Cigarette smoke, scented products and chemical sprays are among the worst triggers because inhaling the irritants can lead to a hyperactive response in the lungs. 

Take action: Avoid second- or third-hand smoke, use unscented products and make sure to use sprays in a well-ventilated area, Dr. Polk recommends. If you smoke or vape, set a goal to quit. 

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Indoor allergens such dust mites, mold and pet dander

Asthma symptoms brought on by indoor allergens can be reduced by being proactive in the home. 

Take action: Use allergy-proof mattress covers and wash bedding in hot water weekly. A dehumidifier can help reduce mold and mildew, and vacuuming often can help keep pet dander under control. 

Outdoor allergens such pollen and mold

Asthma sufferers sensitive to pollen and mold can help reduce flare-ups during the allergy season.

Take action: Limit your exposure and perform yardwork in the early morning or evening when pollen counts tend to be their lowest. Also, consider wearing a mask to help prevent pollutants and allergens from entering the lungs, Dr. Polk suggests. Once inside, remove clothing worn outside and bathe. 

Animal fur, saliva and urine

Allergic to furry animals? Allergy sufferers can reduce the occurrence of asthma attacks by limiting exposure to pet-related irritants.   

Take action: If you have a pet allergy, the best approach is to minimize exposure or avoid contact altogether. If you must be around an animal, try to keep the animal off your bed and other furniture. Dr. Polk recommends using a HEPA air purifier, which can be helpful for removing pet dander and other irritants that could circulate in the home. 

Cold weather

Cooler and dryer air can trigger airway spasms and asthma symptoms. 

Take action: When outdoors in cooler temperatures, avoid drawing deep breaths into the lungs and breathe through your nose. Wearing headwear that covers the nose and mouth is also helpful because it helps warm the air entering the airways, Dr. Polk says. 

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During physical activity, breathing in cool, dry air deep into the lungs can irritate the airways in an asthma sufferer. 

Take action: To prevent an exercise-induced asthma attack, make sure to have reliever medication such as albuterol on hand. It can also be taken about 15 minutes before exercise to help prevent symptoms. 

Bee stings or insect bites

Asthmatics who are allergic to insects are at risk for a flare-up after a bite or sting. Symptoms can emerge quickly and could cause anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical care. Adrenaline (epinephrine) is a treatment for anaphylaxis and can be administered using an Epi-pen. 

Take action: “If you know you’re allergic, you should always carry your Epi-pen,” Dr. Polk says. In case of emergency, call 911.  

Asthma sufferers can undergo allergy skin testing to determine potential sensitivities. Allergy testing is different from a lung function test, which is used to diagnose asthma. Asthma can develop at any age. If you become symptomatic or have any concern about your lung function, talk to your doctor, who can diagnose and help you create a treatment plan. 
“Knowing what triggers your asthma symptoms and avoiding them can reduce the risk,” Dr. Polk says. “Most people who have asthma understand the symptoms. Everyone’s triggers are different. Be mindful of what yours are and learn how to avoid them or be prepared if you have a flare-up.” 

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