Asthma Triggers

Most people can think of several things that make their asthma worse. These we call triggers. A trigger is anything that irritates the airways and causes the symptoms of asthma to appear. Everyone's asthma is different and you will probably have several triggers. It can be difficult to identify exactly what triggers your asthma. Your airways may react to triggers straight away but sometimes the response develops over 4-6 hours or longer.

Asthma exacerbations may be caused by a variety of triggers, including allergens, viral infections, pollutants and drugs. Reducing your exposure to some of these risk factors (e.g. tobacco smoke, identified occupational agents, and avoiding foods/additives/drugs know to cause symptoms) improves the control of asthma and reduces medication needs. in the case of other know triggers (e.g. allergens, viral infections and pollutants) measures should be taken to avoid these. Many patients react to multiple factors ubiquitous in the environment. Avoiding these factors is usually impractical and very limiting for people with asthma and allergies. Medications to maintain asthma control have an important role because patients are often less sensitive to risk factors when their asthma is under good control.

The common triggers are:

  • Colds and flu
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Exercise and activity
  • Allergies to pets, house dust mites, pollen moulds and fungal spores.
  • Weather changes
  • Air pollutants
  • Occupations
  • Food and drink
  • Emotions
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex
  • Hormones
  • Drugs

Often it's not just one trigger that sets off an episode of asthma but a mixture of several triggers at about the same time. Every person with asthma has different triggers. Identifying them is not always easy. It is well worthwhile trying to identify your triggers but it may not always be possible. Using a peak flow meter or recording symptoms when your asthma gets worse will help you find out what your triggers are. Pay particular attention to your triggers when your asthma is troublesome, as you will react more to them at this time. Make a list of your possible triggers and take this list next time you visit your doctor and discuss all that can be done to avoid or deal with them.

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Information provided by the Asthma Society of Ireland