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asthma-triggers

How to Avoid Asthma Triggers

by | May 23, 2022 | Everyday Health

Tips to prevent asthma attacks

Breathing is an unconscious act that most people take for granted. But, if you’re one of 2.7 million Australians living with asthma, carefree breathing is a life perk you unfortunately weren’t gifted at birth.

Characterised by chronic inflammation of the airways, asthma is a complex lung condition that affects 1 in 9 people in Australia. People with asthma have sensitive airways that flare up when they’re exposed to certain triggers, and this can cause difficulty in breathing, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In some cases, symptoms of asthma can lead to severe asthma attacks that may require hospitalisation.

There is no known cure for asthma, however asthma symptoms can be managed to enable a reasonably normal life. One way to manage asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks is to be aware of common triggers so you can aim to avoid unexpected flare ups.

What are asthma symptoms?

Asthma symptoms often occur in response to a specific trigger. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, severe, and even life-threatening.

Common symptoms include:
  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness or pain

  • Wheezing when exhaling

  • Coughing

  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia caused by shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing

  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a cold or flu

Signs that asthma may be worsening include:
  • More frequent and noticeable symptoms of asthma

  • Breathing that becomes increasingly more difficult

  • The need to seek quick-relief from an inhaler more often

How do asthma attacks happen?

The helpless, uncontrollable gasping associated with an asthma attack completes no man’s vision of a good time. Air is what keeps us alive. So, when air supply is compromised due to a narrowing of the airways, you can bet the experience of an asthma attack is going to leave lasting trauma.

Ultimately, inflamed airways trigger asthma attacks. Whether as a result of muscles spasms, swelling of the mucus membrane lining the airways, or larger production of mucus in the airways, these biological occurrences can all cause a narrowing of the airways that makes it harder for a person with asthma to breathe.

The body’s self defence will come into effect to try and clear excess mucus or reduce the swelling, however it’s these actions that can trigger moderate or severe asthma attacks accompanied by symptoms of shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, wheezing, and coughing.

What are the warning signs of an asthma attack?

Warning signs are the early internal alarm bells that alert when asthma symptoms begin to worsen. Familiarising yourself with the early signs of an asthma attack could be the difference between having a mild episode and a full blown severe asthma attack.

Like any medical condition, early signs vary from person to person, however can include:

  • Frequent coughing, especially at night

  • Losing your breath easily, or shortness of breath throughout the day

  • Feeling tired or weak when exercising

  • Wheezing or coughing during or after physical activity

  • Feeling irritable, grumpy, or easily upset for no apparent reason

  • Signs of a cold, flu, respiratory infection, or allergies (runny nose, sneezing, congestion, sore throat, headache)

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

What triggers asthma attacks?

A hallmark feature of asthma is a hypersensitivity of the airways. People with asthma are more sensitive to things that wouldn’t normally affect people without asthma.

For a person with asthma, exposure to certain irritants and substances can trigger allergies or an asthma attack. These irritants and substances are what we call asthma triggers.

Asthma triggers vary from person to person and can include:

  • Airborne allergens, like pollen, dust mites and animal dander

  • Food and food additives

  • Physical activity

  • Heartburn

  • Smoking

  • Sinusitis

  • Respiratory infections, like the common cold

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a common condition in which stomach acids flow back up the food pipe

  • Certain medications

  • Weather conditions, like cold air

  • Strong emotions and stress

  • Air pollution and cigarette smoke

Identifying and avoiding triggers can help in learning how to control asthma and even prevent an asthma emergency.

Allergic triggers of asthma

Asthma and allergies are closely connected, with allergic asthma presenting in the form of hay fever, skin reactions, asthma, or life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Most people with asthma identify with several allergy triggers.

Common allergy triggers of asthma symptoms include:

  • Dust mites

  • Mould spores

  • Pollen (normally seasonal from grass, weeds, and trees)

  • Animal dander

  • Environmental and workplace substances (latex, wood dust, flours)

Avoiding and reducing exposure to allergy triggers can help in the management of asthma for a better quality of life.

Tips to reduce exposure to dust mites in the home

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how regularly you clean your home, invisible-to-the-eye dust mites will still cause asthma flare ups. Dust mites gather and multiply in fabrics like bedlinen, cushions and rugs, readily awaiting any opportunity to cause a sniffle, sneeze, or asthma attack.

As a general guide, washing fabric items in hot water above 60-degrees will kill dust mites and remove allergic substances produced by the mites. A secondary measure of drying items in a hot dryer will further destroy any remaining dust mites that survived a wash, however the dryer will not remove allergic substances.

To further reduce exposure to dust mites:

  • Wash bedlinen weekly in water with a temperature above 60-degrees

  • Choose a mattress and mattress protector that are dust mite resistant

  • Use quilts and blankets that can be washed or dry cleaned regularly

  • Dust furniture regularly using a damp cloth

  • Avoid carpet and rugs wherever possible

  • Ensure your home is vacuumed regularly (preferably with a high-efficiency particular air filter)

  • Avoid textured or fabric materials on furniture – leather, wood and vinyl are the best options

Tips to reduce exposure to mould spores

Flooding, rain, leaking pipes, and inadequate drainage can cause mould to grow in homes, particularly those that are old, damp, and poorly ventilated. The thing with mould is that it produces millions of airborne spores that are easily inhaled and have massive potential to worsen respiratory diseases like asthma. Unless you’re in a position to pack up and move your entire life to a new home, reducing exposure to mould spores can be difficult.

The best ways of reducing exposure to mould in your home:

  • Prevent water damage in the home, particularly on carpets

  • Treat existing mould in kitchen and bathroom with a fermented white vinegar solution

  • Remove or fix sources of dampness (leaking pipes or a dripping ceiling)

  • Chang air conditioner filters frequently

  • Ensure bathrooms are well ventilated

  • Remove indoor plants, mulch and compost

Tips to reduce exposure to pollen

Pollen season is the absolute worst time for some asthma sufferers. Occurring when plants are in bloom, this highly sensitive time of year will differ for each individual person according to which type of plant they’re allergic to.

Tips to reduce exposure to pollen during flowering season:

  • Stay up to date with pollen count info (most weather related media outlets and phone apps will provide up-to-date daily pollen counts)

  • Make an effort to stay indoors in the morning when grass pollens are circulating

  • Avoid mowing the lawn, or wear a mask when doing so

  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes

  • Keep windows and doors closed, especially in the morning

  • Avoid visiting the park when pollen sits at a higher risk level

Tips to reduce exposure to animal dander

Pets are great! They’re the ultimate providers of never-ending joy. Unless, you’re developing asthma symptoms as a result of their fur. Obviously the best strategy to remove exposure of pet dander is to avoid close contact with pets.

If rehoming your best mate is out of the question, try these tips to reduce exposure to pet dander in your home, or someone else’s:

  • If possible, ensure pets spend the majority of their time outdoors

  • When pets are inside, keep them in one area of the home to reduce the spread of dander

  • If possible, choose a low-allergy pet (some pets have a type of fur that’s less likely to trigger asthma)

  • Make sure pets don’t enter your bedroom or sleep on your bed

  • Wash pets weekly

  • Brush and groom pets outside, or take to a pet salon

  • Vacuum regularly

  • Use air cleaners and sanitisers

  • Avoid carpets and rugs if possible

Non-allergic triggers of asthma

When we refer to non-allergic triggers of asthma, we’re talking about triggers that don’t involve an allergic reaction of the immune system.

Common non-allergic triggers of asthma include:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke

  • Exercise

  • Certain foods and food additives

  • Weather conditions, like cold air

  • Air pollution

Tips to reduce exposure to cigarette smoke

Australia has certainly become a safer place for people with asthma to breathe since the government cracked down on smoking proximity to public buildings. But if it’s not second-hand smoke you’re worried about because you’re a smoker yourself, smoking cigarettes can actually make asthma worse.

If smoking is causing asthma flare ups, try these tips to avoid tobacco smoke as a trigger for asthma:

  • If you’re a smoker, speak to your doctor about quitting

  • If quitting isn’t an option for you right now, try to minimise the number of cigarettes per day

  • Avoid smoking in your car or small spaces

  • When at home, smoke outside only

  • Request that any visitors to your home don’t smoke, or smoke outside

Tips to avoid exercise induced asthma

For up to 90% of people living with asthma, an intense workout can cause a condition known as exercise induced bronchoconstriction. And in plain English, that’s exercise induced asthma caused by a sudden, temporary narrowing of the airways that restricts breathing.

Tips to reduce the risk of exercise induced asthma:

  • Proactively manage symptoms with preventer medicine

  • Always keep your reliever medication in your gym bag

  • Ensure you’re warming up properly before strenuous workouts

  • Ensure you’re cooling down after your workouts to prevent asthma occurring after

  • If your doctor approves, use your reliever medication 15 minutes before a workout

Tips to reduce exposure to foods and food additives that trigger asthma

The foods you eat play a powerful role in determining the quality and productivity of your days (and by now we all know how fast foods impact mental health). For people living with both asthma and food allergies, there’s a higher risk of asthma attacks and food-induced anaphylaxis (a severe, often life-threatening reaction that almost always requires hospitalisation).

The most common food allergies are eggs, cow’s milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, fish, wheat, shellfish, salads, and fresh fruit. Sulphites and preservatives that are added to foods and beverages (including alcohol) can also cause isolated cases of asthma.

Tips to reduce exposure to foods that trigger asthma:

  • Avoid known foods that trigger asthma

  • Avoid food additives whenever possible

  • Undergo professional allergy testing to gauge food sensitivities and allergies to avoid

Tips to reduce exposure to air pollution and weather conditions

Extreme weather and pollution can cause unexpected environmental changes with potential to increase the risk for a person to develop asthma symptoms. Common triggers associated with the weather and environment include wood fires, smoke in the air, traffic pollution, poor air quality, heat waves, dust, pollen, dry air, and cold air.

Tips to reduce exposure to weather and environmental conditions:

  • Always have your asthma medication on hand (your preventer and reliever)

  • Check the weather forecast each morning as part of your morning routine (find out how a good morning routine can transform your life)

  • Plan for the worst by carrying a sweater, scarf, and gloves

  • Remain inside on high pollution days

  • Remain inside and close all windows and doors if there are bushfires in your area

  • Avoid outdoor exercise on high pollution days

Medical conditions that trigger asthma

Just when you think you’ve lucked out in the personal health department with your asthma diagnosis, having other medical conditions can actually make your asthma worse. These conditions include sinusitis, upper respiratory infections, common cold, flu, bronchitis, sinus problems, heartburn, and reflux.

To avoid triggers associated with these medical conditions, be proactive by staying on top of your health and speaking with your doctor regularly when symptoms arise.

Medications that trigger asthma

Having asthma may increase sensitivity towards medications, including aspirin, beta blockers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, and ACE inhibitors that are used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure.

Having asthma won’t guarantee a sensitivity to these medications, they’re just a trigger to be conscious of. Only avoid these medications if they’ve triggered moderate or severe asthma before. And always speak with your doctor if you’re in doubt about taking any medications.

Let’s get your health sorted!

Being aware of your asthma triggers is just one piece of a solid asthma management plan.

To seek advice, manage your asthma treatment subscription, and have all your medical questions answered, start a conversation with a Stagger doctor today.

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