Getting to know asthma triggers

Colds and Viral Infections

House Dust Mites

Furry or Feathery Animals

Cigarette Smoke

Pollen

Chemicals

Mould

Cold Air

Food

Exercise & Excitement

To improve control of asthma and reduce medication needs, steps should be taken to avoid the risk factors that cause asthma symptoms. Avoiding some of these factors completely is nearly impossible. Medications to maintain asthma control have a very important role as patients are often less sensitive to these risk factors when asthma is under control.

Here is a list of some common triggers that cause asthma symptoms in children:

Colds and Viral Infections

These are common asthma triggers in young children. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to avoid! However, taking regular preventer medication can reduce the risk of an asthma attack caused by a chest infection. Up to 80% of children under five have asthma caused by viral triggers but they often grow out of it.

Wheezing is very common in pre-school children. It is usually associate with a viral respiratory illness - predominantly Respiratory Syncytial Virus(RSV) or Rhinovirus in children younger than 3 years.

In older children asthma may be caused by other triggers.

House Dust Mites

House dust mites are tiny creatures that live in our beds, carpets, soft furnishings and soft toys. Most children under five with asthma do not have known allergies to mites and other dust but if your child is allergic the following tips may help:

  • Ensure pillows and mattresses are in air-tight covers.
  • Use barrier covers for children's bedding. (Contact The Asthma Society for advice on protective bed covers)
  • Hot wash (at 60ºC) all bedding at least once a week and dry bedding in hot dryer or in the sun if the pollen count is low.
  • Vacuum frequently (three times a week) using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter is more effective at picking up the house dust mite.
  • Dust regularly (three times a week) with a damp cloth.
  • Keep soft toys to a minimum and wash at 60ºC every week or two weeks.

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Furry or Feathery Animals

Some children with asthma are allergic to furry animals and occasionally birds. A high proportion of Irish families keep cats and the allergens they produce tend to stay in the house for long periods. They are not a good choice of pet for families who have members with allergies. Other pets do not seem to produce such potent allergens, but dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and mice can cause problems for some people. What to do:

  • Think seriously before buying a pet if there is a family history of allergies or if your child has asthma.
  • If you already own a pet, try to keep it out of the bedroom and family room.
  • Wash pets regularly, vacuum carpets and upholstery regularly with a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Cigarette Smoke

At least 75% of people with asthma become wheezy in a smoky room. It has been shown that children with asthma whose parents smoke have more asthma episodes than children whose parents don't smoke.

One of the best ways to help your child's asthma is not to smoke. Cigarette smoke triggers asthma attacks and it is especially harmful to growing lungs.

  • For advice visit Quit Smoking for information/support
  • Keep your child away from smoky atmospheres. If you must smoke, smoke outside.
  • If you're planning a baby, both parents should stop smoking during pregnancy. There is evidence that this can reduce the risk of your child developing asthma.

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Pollen

Very few children under five have asthma that is triggered by pollen unless they have other allergies or a family history of allergy.

  • Do not stop your child from playing outside, but be aware that a high pollen count
  • could cause problems.
  • Visit your doctor who will be able to prescribe hay fever treatments. S/he might also suggest that you increase the dose of preventer during the pollen season. Although it's difficult for children to avoid pollens and spores completely, there are several sensible and worthwhile precautions you can take.

Indoors

  • Keep doors and windows closed especially mid-morning and late afternoon to early evening. These are the times when the pollen count is usually at its highest.
  • Vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth.
  • Avoid drying clothes outside. But if you do, shake them before bringing them back into the house. This reduces the amount of any pollen and spores that might have blown onto them.
  • If children have been outside, wash their hair and change their clothes when they get back in so they won't carry spores and pollen around the house.
  • Splash their eyes with cold water regularly. This will help flush out any pollen and will also soothe and cool the eyes.
  • Keep fresh flowers out of the house.
  • Keep furry pets out of the house during the hay fever season.
  • If your pet does come indoors, wash or bathe them regularly to remove any lingering pollen from their fur.

Outdoors

Check the pollen forecast before your child ventures outside. This will give you an idea of how high or low the pollen count is in your area.

  • Encourage children to stay indoors if there is a high pollen count.
  • Get them to wear wraparound sunglasses, these will help stop pollen blowing into their eyes.
  • Smear Vaseline inside their nose which can help to stop pollen and spores from settling on the lining of the nose.
  • Encourage them to stay out of places with lots of grass, like parks or fields.
  • Keep your car windows closed. Some cars can be fitted with pollen filters. Ask at your local garage for further details.
  • Try to avoid mowing the lawn or weeding when the child with asthma is around. These activities can create clouds of pollen and spores.

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Chemicals

Chemical irritants found in some products in your house, such as scented or unscented products, including cleaners, paints, adhesives, pesticides, cosmetics, air fresheners or scented candles, may make your child's asthma worse.

  • Use these products less often and make sure your child is not around when you use the products. Also, consider trying different products.
  • Take great care to follow the instructions on the label. If you use these products, try to make sure that windows or doors are open.

Mould

Avoid condensation - it will help reduce house dust mites and mould spores in your home. Mould spores can trigger asthma symptoms in some children. They are found in any damp place from piles of autumn leaves and woody areas to bathrooms and kitchens.

  • Remove damp and mould in the house quickly and avoid condensation.
  • Avoid drying clothes on radiators to reduce condensation and damp air.
  • Keep rooms well aired.

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Cold Air

Some children are sensitive to cold air and may cough or wheeze when they first go out outside. But this does not mean they have to stay inside.

  • A puff of reliever (or more if your doctor tells you to) just before going out should help.
  • Wearing a scarf, covering the nose and mouth, will also help as this will warm the air.

Food

Food allergy is rare and seldom triggers asthma. If you are concerned, keep a food diary and discuss with your doctor or asthma nurse. Please note: nut and shellfish allergy can be very serious and extra special precautions are necessary in this case.

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Exercise & Excitement

Exercise and excitement can trigger asthma in some children. But it is very important for children with asthma to have fun and enjoy exercise. With proper asthma management, exercise should not be a problem. Preventer medication should be taken on a daily basis as prescribed.

Top Tips to Manage Exercise Induced Asthma

  • It is beneficial to give your child the reliever inhaler (blue) immediately before they warm up, but check with your doctor or healthcare professional first.
  • Ensure your child weasr a scarf around nose and mouth when exercising outdoors on cold days.
  • Always start the exercise session with gentle warm up exercises.
  • Always ensure that the child has brought their reliever medication with them and that the reliever is easily accessible.
  • Always ensure the child warms down after exercise.
  • If the child is exercising at school ensure the Physical Education teacher is informed your child has asthma.

What to do if a Child Experiences Asthma Symptoms During Exercise?

  • Stop exercise
  • Take reliever inhaler (blue)
  • Do not restart exercise for 5 mins and only when the child can breath easily and are free of symptoms

If Symptoms Return When They Start Exercises Again

  • Stop!
  • Use Inhaler as before
  • Inform parent or guardian and suggest that they seek medical advice

Please note: (Chemicals used in pools may be a trigger for some children).

Click here for more information on Sports & Exercise with Asthma

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Information provided by the Asthma Society of Ireland