An asthma attack denotes a sudden and acute exacerbation of symptoms of asthma, leading to serious breathing difficulties. As all asthmatics know, these attacks can be caused by different factors and stimuli, usually called triggers. They can be very varied and can affect different individuals in different ways. So, while there are no “universal” asthma triggers, we can still single out the most common ones that affect the largest percentage of asthmatics. Usually, breathing in allergens is considered to be the most common trigger, but even then, the exact type of those allergens will play a crucial role in the possible onset of an asthma attack.
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How can I identify my asthma triggers?
So, since there are no universal asthma triggers, each asthmatic should be familiar with those factors and stimuli that are affect him or her personally. But, how does one identify asthma triggers except by pure chance?
A commonly recommended method is keeping a diary of your daily activities along with any symptoms that you might experience over the course of your day. Eventually, with enough entries, you should be able to notice the patterns.
Bellow, we will provide you with a list of most common asthma triggers which you can use as a starting point. While there is no guarantee that any of the mentioned triggers would cause an asthmatic reaction for you, they are common to a significant percentage of people affected by this condition. In addition, it is worth noting that while for some asthma triggers are caused by only one type of triggers, others can respond to a much wider range of stimuli.
Asthma and alcohol
According to a study published through US National Library of Medicine, around 35% of asthmatics will experience worsened symptoms after alcohol consumption.1 Scientists suspect that this is so because many alcoholic drinks contain histamine, a naturally occurring compound that is also produced within human body as a part of a wider allergic reaction.
Histamine levels are particularly high in red wine and beer, the same drinks that often also contain sulphites or preservatives that some asthmatics can also react to.
So, if you are affected by asthma, it might be better to avoid alcoholic drinks altogether, especially if you had no prior experience with them. On the other hand, you might be among those 65% of asthmatics that don’t react to alcohol.
How to prevent alcohol-induced asthma attack?
Of course, the simplest and most to the point solution would be to simply avoid alcohol. However, if you’re a devoted drinker, maybe you should try to figure out which drinks exactly can cause a reaction. For example, spirits such as vodka, gin or tequila generally contain lower amounts of histamine. So, if the theory mentioned above holds true, these drinks should cause a reaction of a lesser intensity or not at all.
In addition, it is a good idea to have your reliever inhaler at hand when you do decide to drink, just to be safe!
Different types of food
A healthy and well-balanced diet is probably one of the most commonly heard general health advices, but many would find it surprising that a proper diet can also be crucial in preventing an asthma attack. There are some indications that there’s a direct link between increased consumption of fish, fruit and vegetables and decreased prevalence of asthma.
In addition, some asthmatics might experience exacerbation of symptoms as a result of a food allergy. While histamine isn’t as often found in foods as is the case with alcohol, if one is allergic to a certain type of food, then the body will start naturally releasing histamine, causing the characteristic symptoms of asthma.
How to prevent and mitigate asthma caused by certain foods?
Ideally, you will be able to notice consumption of which dietary items is followed by worsening of your condition, thus finding out which foods exactly cause an adverse reaction. However, even then, it is not a good idea to simply “cut out” whole food groups prior to consultations with your doctor. Radically changing your diet can be very dangerous as this can compromise your nutritional intake and make your diet imbalanced – the very opposite of what you would want.
In order to precisely find out which foods cause an asthmatic reaction, your doctor may suggest a skin prick test to determine which specific type of food can be considered to be a trigger. Using the results of a test, the doctor can make a new dietary plan for you which will eliminate the foods you’re allergic to, but won’t compromise the balance of your diet in general.
Exercise, sex and physical activity
People affected by exercise-induced asthma can experience an asthma attack as a result of intense physical activity. But even for others, increased heart rate can sometimes lead to exacerbation of symptoms. During exercise or sexual activity, breathing usually becomes heavier. In ordinary circumstances, the inhaled air will get warmed up in the nose prior to entering the lungs, but, during physical activity of any kind, most people breathe through mouth, causing colder and dryer air to enter the organism. Asthmatics commonly react to these changes, so it’s important to be aware of them.
How to manage exercise-induced asthma
With this type of asthma triggers, precautions are the best answer. Gradually warming up prior to physical activity has proven to be rather beneficial in these cases, just like switching from outdoor to indoor exercise during the colder months of the year. Having a reliever inhaler at hand is also a necessary precaution.
Finally, if sexual activity can bring on an asthma attack, the best things you can do is keep reliever inhaler close and also try to find a position where there is no pressure on your chest.
Pollution and smoking as asthma triggers
While they are significantly different threats, both pollution and tobacco smoke are very harmful for most asthmatics. These pollutants can also increase the sensitivity to other triggers and prolonged exposure can even cause impaired lung functionality. Here we won’t even mention the well-known dangers of smoking and the direct link between this harmful habit and numerous very serious health conditions.
What can I do if pollution and tobacco smoke trigger my asthma?
Asthmatics who are also smokers will definitely be strongly encouraged to quit smoking as this bad habit dramatically reduces lung capacity and increase the risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack. Even those asthmatics who aren’t smokers themselves are usually advised to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke as much as possible and especially indoors.
On the other hand, air pollution is very hard to avoid, especially if you live in a polluted city. If this is the case, you should take certain steps that will limit your exposure. It is also helpful to often check the current pollution levels in your city and keep your reliever inhaler at hand, especially on high pollution days. You should also try to limit your time outdoors and avoid high traffic areas. Finally, you should make sure that your windows and doors are closed throughout the day.
Pollen as an asthma trigger
Pollen is naturally released into the atmosphere by plants, trees and weeds at certain parts of the year. It is made of different types of proteins that most of people don’t react to. But, the research seems to suggest that roughly one in five people will experience a hyperactive response to pollen, leading to the release of histamine into the system and the subsequent symptoms such as:
- Itchy or red eyes
- Runny nose
How to manage asthma if I react to pollen?
It’s not that often that people are allergic to all types of pollen. So, for most asthmatics, the exacerbation of symptoms may be tied to specific months of the year when the plant species they do react to are in flowering. If your condition is rather seasonal in nature, than pollen is probably what’s causing it. By keeping a diary on when the symptoms manifest, you will be able to single out the months when the symptoms are at their worst. With this information, you can easily find out which plant species are flowering at that same time of the year. Alternatively, you can go to a doctor and ask to be tested for different types of pollen.
To mitigate the symptoms you can try to keep windows and doors shut when you are indoors, and also shower immediately after returning home and changing your clothes in order to eliminate exposure to pollen that might have already reached you. Finally, keeping an eye on pollen forecast and adjusting your plans accordingly can also be rather successful preventive strategies.
Mould and asthma
Mould is a type of microscopic fungi that thrive in moist, damp environments. The specific cold and damp climate of the UK, combined with the old age of many of the city buildings make mould surprisingly common problem. Most often, it can be found around the window frames and behind wallpapers or tiles. Mould spores are invisible to the naked eye due to their extremely small size. As such, they can be easily transported on even the lightest of air currents and eventually breathed in.
How to deal with asthma if it is triggered by mould spores?
It might be a good idea to ask a doctor to test you for different types of mould so that you can try and avoid it as much as possible. However, sometimes this can be easier said than done. So, preventive practices might be much more useful. For example, you can keep your house well-ventilated by opening the windows, checking your home regularly for the appearance of mould and call the relevant services if you notice any build up. Finally, be careful to not let the fallen leaves gather in your backyard, as they are the natural breathing ground for different types of mould.
Dust mites as asthma triggers
House dust mites inhabit carpets, soft furnishing and similar objects, making them virtually impossible to avoid. Many asthmatics can experience significant exacerbations of symptoms when exposed to dust mites’ droppings.
What can I do if dust mites trigger my asthma?
As dust mites are, for all intents and purposes, unavoidable, the best advice regarding this issue is to try and keep your asthma as well-managed as possible in order to try and prevent a potential asthma attack from occurring. This means that you should take all medicines prescribed by your doctor precisely as instructed.
At the same time, studies have shown that pesticides, regular vacuuming and using air filters won’t significantly reduce your chances of coming into contact with dust mites.
Pet and animal hair as asthma trigger
Animal allergies are relatively common throughout the world and they can develop at any time over the course of our lives. Some examples clearly testify that even after living with the same pet for years, an allergy can still develop rather unexpectedly.
What should I do if animals trigger my asthma?
Identifying a severe animal allergy can is usually rather easy task. In most cases, the symptoms will begin the manifest as soon as you come in contact with an animal. A skin prick test carried out by a medical professional can then be used to confirm your suspicions.
People who don’t own pets need not to worry unless they know they will be exposed to animal hair. Taking preventive medicines, including antihistamines beforehand can significantly contribute to the reduction of symptoms. On the other hand, if you’re living with a pet, some precautions will have to be taken. For example, you should keep your pets out of the room where you sleep, ask someone else to clean the area where the pet lives and sleeps and be sure to take your pet to groomer regularly.
According to statistical study undertaken by Asthma UK, the leading asthma charity within the United Kingdom, up to 75% of asthmatics report worsening of symptoms after a sudden change of weather. This means that weather is a very important and often underestimated asthma trigger. Different factors such as cold air, damp conditions, wind, rain, lightning, air pressure and heat can all play a part in the onset of an asthma attack.
People affected by this condition have very sensitive airways which can react to even the slightest change in the quality of air, having a direct impact on breathing ease or difficulties.
What can I do to manage my condition if it is triggered by weather?
Now obviously, you cannot control the weather, so the best thing you can do is just be prepared for it. What this means is that you should try to keep your condition well-managed by using the medication prescribed by the doctor in accordance with official guidelines, attending regular check-ups and keeping an eye on the weather forecast for your area.
One of the most common weather asthma triggers is cold air – when breathed in, the sudden change of temperature within the lungs can have a sudden negative impact on the airways which can go into acute spasm, causing a rather severe and dangerous asthma attack.
This is why it is very important to keep warm and dry during the colder months, while having your reliever inhaler close by at all times. Loosely wrapped scarf around your nose and mouth can be surprisingly effective in warming up the air. In addition, you should also rely on the natural mechanism of preventing the cold air from reaching the lungs without being warmed up beforehand – by simply breathing through your nose.
Emotions and stress as asthma triggers
Different intensive emotions including stress, anger, happiness or sadness can all potentially lead to exacerbation of asthma symptoms. While anyone can get affected by these “internal” triggers, the chances are significantly lowered if your asthma is well-managed.
A change in emotion is in most cases accompanied by subsequent physiological changes, most importantly, a change in breathing rhythm. What’s even more dangerous, when we get emotional, we often breathe through our mouths while taking shorter or longer breaths than usual. This is very dangerous for asthmatics who have very sensitive airways that can instantly react to this change, contracting and leading to an asthma attack.
What can I do if emotions trigger my asthma?
Naturally, one cannot have a complete control over one’s emotions – nor can we claim that it would be the best course of action. So, the best thing you can do is ensure that your asthma is managed as good as possible. This means carefully following the doctor’s instructions and recommendations when it comes to your therapy and personal asthma action plan.
Illnesses and health conditions as asthma triggers
Catching a cold or influenza is rather unpleasant even when you don’t have an underlying chronic health condition. But for asthmatics, these usual health problems can become a source of real trouble. As these infections affect the respiratory tract, causing inflammation processes and production of excess mucus, they can easily trigger an asthma attack – and a serious one at that!
What should I do to avoid asthma attack caused by illness?
Of course, you cannot control whether you will catch a cold – if we could, no one would ever get sick! What you can do is try to take all the precautions and keep your immune system at its best. Washing your hands regularly, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, exercising, ensuring proper sleep patterns and getting flu vaccines can all make a difference and reduce the chances of getting ill at the first place. However, if you do catch a cold, be sure to check with your doctor whether your over-the-counter medication might have an impact on your condition or maybe interact with the asthma medicines you are taking.