Dealing With Asthma Triggers
Asthma causes chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs, which is aggravated by asthma triggers that bring on asthma symptoms.
Triggers are substances, weather conditions, or activities that are harmless to most people, but can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath in those with asthma. They don't cause asthma, but they can lead to asthma symptoms and flare-ups.
Triggers vary from person to person. They're sometimes seasonal and may even stop affecting kids with asthma as they grow older.
Common asthma triggers include:
- irritants and pollutants in the air
- respiratory infections, like colds or flu
- weather conditions
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Triggers and Asthma Management
Asthma can't be cured, but it can be managed. The goal of asthma management is to reduce symptoms on a day-to-day basis and to maintain normal activity levels, including the ability to exercise and participate in sports.
One way to do this is by minimizing exposure to triggers. If exposure isn't controlled, triggers can cause severe flare-ups, chronic symptoms between flare-ups, and even reduced lung function.
Because triggers are different for each person, you'll need to work with your doctor to determine your child's specific triggers. The doctor may suggest that you keep an asthma symptoms/trigger diary, using symptoms, peak flow meter readings, and a record of circumstances during which symptoms occurred to help you identify possible triggers. Once triggers are identified, they can be included in the overall asthma action plan you develop with the doctor.
Your child may also need allergy skin testing if the doctor suspects that allergens are triggers. Some kids may need to take allergy medication or have allergy shots. Your doctor will determine if this is necessary.
Allergens and Irritants
Allergens, one of the most common asthma triggers, include:
- dust mites
- animal dander (tiny flakes of dead skin), saliva, or urine
It isn't possible to avoid all allergens, but you can help minimize them in your home. Focus on the rooms where your child sleeps and plays:
- Keep these areas as clean and dust free as possible. This means vacuuming and dusting weekly, eliminating clutter, getting rid of unnecessary stuffed animals, and routinely washing other stuffed animals in hot water.
- Wash sheets weekly in hot water, and get rid of feather pillows and comforters.
- Purchase hypoallergenic covers for the mattress, box spring, and pillows.
- Eliminate rugs and carpeting whenever possible.
- Clean curtains (which should be washable) often.
- Make sure damp areas like bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms are cleaned often and properly ventilated so that mold and mildew don't form.
- Avoid using humidifiers, and use dehumidifiers in damp parts of your house.
- Check your local mold and pollen count readings and plan indoor activities for windy days, which can lead to high counts.
- Use bait traps or professional extermination to rid your home of cockroaches, and keep your kitchen clean and your house free of stacks of paper.
Irritants are different from allergens. People who don't have allergies or asthma can be affected by irritants, though they're not usually a serious problem. But for kids with asthma, irritants can lead to airway inflammation and flare-ups.
Common irritants include:
- aerosol sprays
- cleaning products
- wood and tobacco smoke
- paint or gas fumes
- air pollution
Even things that may seem harmless, like scented candles or fresh newsprint, are triggers for some kids. Here are some ways to reduce household irritants:
- If you notice that a household product triggers your child's asthma, switch to an unscented or nonaerosol version of it.
- Don't have wood fires in your home.
- Keep your child away from areas where painting or carpentry work is being done.
- If you cook on a gas stove, make sure your kitchen is well ventilated — to the outside, if possible.
- Forbid smoking in your home and car, and make sure your child avoids smoky environments like restaurants and parties.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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