Understanding and Avoiding Your Asthma Triggers
If you’re anything like me, you have multiple triggers for your asthma symptoms. I’ve suffered from asthma for many years, but it actually took me a long time to identify why I was having symptoms — and then how to do something about it!
Below you’ll find an extensive list of asthma triggers — both indoor and outdoor — and an explanation of how to avoid that trigger, and if that is not possible, how to decrease exposure in order to reduce asthma symptoms.
Food Allergies or Intolerances
It may come as a surprise, but having an allergy or intolerance to a food can cause asthma. When a food allergy causes asthma symptoms, that specific type of asthma is called allergic asthma or allergy-induced asthma.
As someone who has suffered with asthma for as long as I can remember, being diagnosed with a food allergy in my 20s was unnerving. When I found out I had an allergy to milk products and eggs, I thought my world had turned upside down.
However, I was miserable — I frequently had upper respiratory infections and a nagging cough that wouldn’t quit. I also felt short of breath most of the time.
When I quit drinking milk and eating cheese and cut out my daily omelet, suddenly I could breathe again. I didn’t realize just how severe my asthma symptoms had been until I cut the offending foods out of my diet!
When someone who has a food allergy consumes a “forbidden” food, an allergic response is set into motion. The body mistakenly identifies the food as an invader and produces antibodies that bind to the allergen.
The chemical response elicited by the body leads to allergy symptoms — for most people, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes — and for some people, asthma symptoms.
An easy way to treat asthma associated with food allergies is to omit the foods from the diet and prevent symptoms from occurring in the first place. However, there are a few options that treat both allergies and asthma:
- Montelukast (Singulair) – this is a daily medication that helps control the immune response during an allergic reaction. On rare occasions, this medication is linked to suicidal tendencies.
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy) – after an allergy test, regular injections with small, increasing doses of the offending allergens are administered. This treatment reduces both allergy and asthma symptoms. The downside is that immunotherapy requires three to five years to complete.
- Anti-immunoglobulin E (IgE) therapy – Omalizumab (Xolair) is given to interfere with IgE in the body, preventing the allergic reaction that may trigger asthma symptoms. IgE is released in the body in response to an offending allergen. The next time this allergen is encountered, IgE triggers the allergic response by releasing histamine.
Tobacco smoke is a common asthma trigger. If you are a smoker and you suffer from asthma, quit smoking immediately. Secondhand smoke — or smoke exposure breathed in due to being near a smoker — can also trigger an asthma attack.
If you have asthma, you should not allow yourself to be around people who smoke, whether it is in your presence, in your car, or your home.
Smoking is harmful for several reasons — increased risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clot, to name a few. There are hundreds of reasons for quitting smoking and if these reasons are not enough, breathing with ease may top the list.
Quitting smoking is easier said than done, but there are many resources available for smoking cessation:
- The CDC’s I’m Ready to Quit! The site has many resources, such as tips for creating a quit plan, managing cravings and information about support groups. Notice on the right side of the screen information is available for a live chat phone number (1-800-QUIT-NOW).
- The use of medications doubles the chances of successfully quitting smoking. Medications include nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, all over-the-counter. Prescription drugs include buproprion (Zyban) ad varenicline (Chantix).
- Seek support from others. Look to friends and family who have successfully quit smoking, or therapists.
I can remember walking to school one morning. It was still dark out but the air was cool and crisp, the snow was sparkling and it was altogether a beautiful morning. However, I was wheezing so severely by the time I reached the elementary school that I hadn’t noticed it.
At the time, it hadn’t occurred to me that the cool, crisp air was the culprit of my symptoms. However, I now know that cold air is an asthma trigger for myself and many other asthma sufferers.
Cold air causes bronchoconstriction, which in turn causes difficult and stressful breathing. In fact, for people who live in cool, dry climates, cold air may actually cause asthma to occur in an otherwise healthy individual.
There isn’t much we can do about living in a cool climate (unless you want to pack your things and move to Hawaii!) but you can choose to limit exposure.
For example, if you enjoy exercising outside, even in the winter months, pick days where the weather isn’t quite as cool. Exercise at the warmer times of the day. Use a scarf to cover your mouth and nose — not a foolproof way to limit cool air exposure, but from personal experience, it may help a little bit!