Breathe easier by understanding asthma triggers

By Jingli Ma, M.D.
Pulmonary medicine and critical care in Melrose, MA

Spring can be brutal for people with asthma. Blooming plants, outdoor sports, and spring cleaning increase the risk of exposure to common asthma attack triggers.

At Hallmark Health Systems, I help patients of all ages learn to control their asthma symptoms.  I won’t tell you not to clean your house or enjoy the outdoors, but I will help you determine what triggers your asthma symptoms and how you can control them.

What is asthma

Asthma is chronic inflammation of the airways. When your airways become inflamed, they become narrower, swell, and produce extra mucous. These symptoms combine to create an asthma attack, which can also include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Asthma attacks can be very scary for you and the people around you. They are often triggered by allergic reactions or sensitivity to something in the environment.

Asthma attack triggers

There are a wide variety of asthma triggers. The triggers I see most often in my patients include:

  • Pet dander. The flakes that come off the skin of cats and dogs get in the air and cause inflammation. Keep pets out of your home as much as possible, and bathe them weekly if they must be indoors.
  • This includes tobacco smoke, campfire smoke, and exhaust. If you smoke, you should quit. Avoid secondhand and environmental smoke whenever possible.
  • This nuisance can cause a variety of health concerns. Get rid of mold in your home and watch out for leaky pipes and excess humidity, which allow mold to grow.
  • Carpets. Dust mites are tiny bugs. They exist in nearly every home and can make breathing difficult. Steam clean your carpets frequently to control the amount of dust mites in your home.
  • Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can trigger asthma attacks. Consider using acetaminophen instead.

It takes a lot of planning to avoid these triggers. If you have asthma, it’s a good idea to carry a rescue inhaler with you at all times. Asthma attacks can be quite serious, so it’s better to plan ahead.

How to prevent asthma attacks

The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to avoid triggers. But we all know that advice isn’t always feasible. You can’t control the environment outside your home, and always staying indoors during beautiful weather is no way to live.

I tell my patients that instead of avoiding social functions or the outdoors, they can use their rescue inhaler before they go outside. If you have more severe symptoms, you may need to use your basic inhaler.

If you have asthma, you can exercise daily, just like anyone else. Click To Tweet

One question my asthma patients often ask is whether they can exercise. The answer is yes! If you have asthma, you can exercise daily, just like anyone else. Just be sure to use your inhaler 10 -15 minutes before they start exercising. You will notice a big difference in your lung function if you remember to use your inhaler first.

How we treat asthma

Treating asthma requires a lot of communication. We will monitor your symptoms and lung function and ask about your symptoms. It’s important that you give accurate, honest answers. That will help our team determine your triggers and come up with a plan to control your symptoms. We will discuss ways to make your home safer for you and how to avoid triggers outside the home. I can’t stress enough that you should always make sure to have your rescue inhaler handy.

We will also teach you how to take your medications. Inhalers are only be effective if they are used properly. For example, I will teach you how to use the air chamber in your inhaler so you absorb more medication from fewer pumps.

I encourage my patients to ask questions. Asthma can be scary to them and the people who care about them. It’s important to fully understand the condition, so ask your physician questions about anything that is unclear.

There is no cure for asthma, but you don’t have to live in fear of asthma attacks. Click To Tweet

There is no cure for asthma, but you don’t have to live in fear of asthma attacks. You can control your asthma symptoms by understanding your triggers and taking the proper precautions when triggers are unavoidable.


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