There are numerous triggers that can lead to the onset of an asthma attack. These can be different from one person to another, among those diagnosed with the condition.
The most exacerbating types of allergens for many people living with asthma are those which are breathed in and come into direct contact with an asthmatic's sensitive airways.
How to Identify Your Asthma Triggers
If you are diagnosed with asthma then your doctor will encourage you to try to identify which particular triggers cause your symptoms.
Once you are aware of the allergens that can cause a flare up then you can create a plan to control them as best as possible.
In some cases you may be able to identify your triggers. Some triggers are more easily identified than others.
One method to help you find out which triggers you are allergic to is to keep a diary of activities along with any symptoms that you experience in order to try and recognise any patterns.
It is important to remember that not every person living with asthma will experience symptoms when they come into contact with each trigger listed below.
Some people may find that their asthma symptoms are only triggered by one type; whereas others might have a reaction to a wider range of stimuli.
Many alcoholic drinks contain the natural food chemical known as histamine which is the same substance produced by our bodies during an allergic reaction. The presence in an alcoholic beverage may trigger asthma symptoms.
Histamine levels can be particularly high in red wine and beers. Alcohol, especially wine, also often contains preservatives or sulphites that some asthmatics are allergic to.
What to do if alcohol triggers your asthma
If you find that alcohol triggers your asthma symptoms then you might want to try and avoid it. It may be that you’re not allergic to all types of alcohol, for example spirits such as gin and vodka have lower amounts of histamine which can sometimes be tolerated better.
If you do decide to have an alcoholic drink then you should take care and have your reliever inhaler with you at all times.
Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet is good advice which everyone should follow.
There are some asthmatics who experience worsened symptoms after eating because of a food allergy. The histamine chemical which is released in response to the consumption of a food allergen can result in a tightened chest, coughing and difficulty breathing.
What to do if certain foods trigger your asthma
You should not completely cut out food groups until you have spoken to your doctor or nurse, as doing so may compromise your nutritional intake. Your doctor may suggest a skin prick test to determine which specific food is causing your negative reaction.
Once you have the results of your test you can look to make changes to your diet and improve your chances of avoiding an asthma attack whilst still eating a balanced diet.
This can be achieved by carefully reading food labels, preparing meals from scratch so that you know exactly what ingredients are used, planning ahead for meals out, warning restaurant staff of your allergy and asking your local supermarket for a free-from list.
Exercise and sex
Any physical activity which increases heart rate has the potential to trigger asthma symptoms.
During exercise or sexual activity our breathing tends to be heavier. Our nose usually warms up air before it enters our passages but when taking part in physical activity most people switch from using their nose to breathe, to using their mouth instead.
This means that the air entering our system is colder and drier.
Asthmatics' airways can be sensitive to these changes, due to the narrowing of the tubes, making it harder to breathe. Some people experience exercise-induced asthma which causes severe asthma symptoms following on from physical activity.
What to do if exercise or sex triggers your asthma
Although exercise can cause some asthmatics to experience worsened symptoms they should not avoid it completely. Introducing some physical activity alongside prescribed medication can help improve asthma symptoms.
There are precautions you can take so that you can enjoy exercise safely.
This includes gradually warming up and down before and after exercising, taking care when exercising outdoors during the colder months or swapping to an indoor activity, keeping your reliever inhaler with you when exercising and making any exercise partners aware of your condition.
You should also still be able to enjoy a normal sex life even if it is a trigger for your asthma. Keep your reliever inhaler close by and try out positions where your chest is not being weighed down.
Pollution and smoking
We are exposed to potentially dangerous substances when we breathe in air pollution and tobacco smoke. These pollutants can be particularly harmful for asthmatics as they can increase sensitivity to other triggers and over time reduce lung function.
What to do if pollution or tobacco smoke trigger your asthma
Asthmatics who are smokers will be strongly encouraged to quit smoking as it drastically reduces lung capacity and increases the risk of a fatal asthma attack. If you do not smoke you should avoid being around those who do as much as possible, especially in enclosed areas.
It can be quite difficult to avoid air pollution as it is not something you can directly control but there are steps you can take to limit your exposure.
If you have identified air pollutants as an asthma trigger then checking pollution levels regularly can help you see whether you need to adapt your plans.
On high pollution days make sure you have your reliever inhaler with you, try to limit your time outdoors, avoid high traffic areas and when inside keep windows and doors closed.
Pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants, trees and weeds and is made up of proteins that most people do not react to.
However, one in five people will have a hyperactive response to pollen, causing histamine to be released into their system and, subsequently, symptoms such as itchy eyes, a runny nose and sneezing.
What to do if pollen triggers your asthma
You might not be allergic to every type of pollen, so your hay fever might come and go through the different seasons. Keeping a diary of activities can be a useful aid to identify which specific pollens you react to.
To reduce your symptoms you should keep windows and doors shut when you are inside, shower immediately after returning inside and change your clothes, keep an eye on the pollen forecast and adjust any planned outdoor activities accordingly.
Unfortunately the UK has high levels of indoor mould due to a combination of our often cold and damp climate and the old age of our buildings.
Mould and fungi thrive in damp environments and tend to gather in our homes close to window frames and behind wallpaper and tiles.
Mould spores are invisible to the naked eye and are released into the air which is when we might breathe them into our system. The proteins in the spores can sometimes cause an unwanted allergic reaction and worsen asthma symptoms.
What to do if mould triggers your asthma
It might be beneficial to identify which type of mould or fungi triggers your asthma symptoms so that you can try and avoid it when possible.
Keep your house well-ventilated by opening windows, check your house regularly for any mould build up and arrange for someone to treat them if spotted. Don’t let fallen leaves build up in your garden, as they offer the perfect breeding ground for mould.
House dust mites make their home in our carpets and soft furnishings so they are virtually impossible to avoid. Many asthmatics are prone to worsening symptoms when they come into contact with them and their droppings.
What to do if dust mites trigger your asthma
Dust mites are unavoidable and so if you are allergic to them then the best advice is to keep your asthma as well-managed as possible. You should take any medication prescribed by your GP as they have directed.
There is no evidence to suggest that using pesticides, regular vacuuming or using air filters will help to decrease your chances of coming into contact with dust mites.
If you are struggling to manage your asthma symptoms and think it may be caused by house dust mites, then you should speak to your GP or nurse for further help and advice.
Animal allergies can develop at any time throughout our lives. In fact, even if we’ve been living with the same pet for years, an allergy can still develop suddenly.
Touching or inhaling animal dander, saliva, faeces or urine can all cause unwanted asthma symptoms.
What to do if animals triggers your asthma
Identifying a severe animal allergy can usually be quite easy as in most cases you will tend to produce symptoms almost as soon as you come into contact with an animal. A skin prick test carried out by your doctor can confirm your allergy.
Those who don’t own pets should only need to think about taking action when they know that they are coming into contact with an animal. Taking an antihistamine beforehand can help reduce or stave off symptoms.
If you do live with pets and they are causing your asthma to flare up then there are a few steps that you can take in order to try and limit your symptoms.
Keep your pets out of your bedrooms, arrange for someone else to clean areas where your pet lives and sleeps, and organise regular grooming of cats and dogs.
The UK’s leading asthma charity Asthma UK says that up to 75 percent of those with asthma notice a worsening in symptoms due to changes in the weather.
The different types of weather that can increase asthma symptoms include cold air, damp conditions, wind, rain, lightning, air pressure and heat.
People living with asthma tend to have very sensitive airways and the slightest change in the air can thereby have a direct effect on their breathing ability. A sudden change in weather can also cause asthma symptoms.
What to do if the weather triggers your asthma
While you obviously can't control the weather, you can be prepared for it.
Try and keep your asthma well-managed by using your medication as directed by your doctor, attend regular asthma check-ups and regularly check the weather forecast for your area.
One of the worst weather culprits for triggering asthma symptoms is cold air. When breathed in the extreme change in temperature can have an instant negative impact on the airways, and they can go into spasm.
There are precautions you can take to decrease the chances of you having a detrimental response to cold weather.
You should try to keep warm and dry, use your preventer inhaler as prescribed and carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times. Loosely wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to help warm the air before you inhale it and try to breathe in through your nose.
Times of extreme stress, anger, happiness or sadness can all potentially cause your asthma to flare up. This can affect anyone at any time but it less likely to do so if you keep your asthma well-managed.
When we experience a change in emotion our breathing tends to change so that we’re not using our noses and we take shorter or longer breaths.
Asthmatics’ sensitive airways might react badly to this change causing a tight chest or shortness of breath.
What to do if emotions trigger your asthma
Experiencing emotions is normal and keeping complete control over them is an impossible task. The best line of defence when it comes to your asthma is to manage it as best as possible.
Make sure that you attend regular check-ups with your doctor and take your medication as it has been prescribed.
Being under the weather or having a cold or the flu can cause problems for asthmatics.
Cold and flu infections attack the respiratory tract causing an increase in the inflammation protein in the airways. This can make it more difficult to breathe and potentially lead to an asthma attack.
What to do if cold and flu trigger your asthma
You can’t control if or when you contract an illness but you can keep yourself as healthy as possible in order to reduce the likelihood.
Regularly wash your hands, eat a well balanced diet, add exercise to your routine, make sure that you sleep well and consider getting the flu jab.
If you are thinking about taking any cold or flu remedies then you should talk to your doctor first to avoid any interactions between your condition and the over-the-counter medication.
The levels of female hormones fluctuate at various times throughout their lives in order to control puberty, fertility and pregnancy. For some women with asthma this fluctuation can cause an increase in symptoms.
The causal link between the two has not yet been established but it is thought that the change in hormone levels provokes a stronger inflammatory response to infection.
What should you do if your hormones trigger your asthma
All women experience a natural change in hormones. At times the change in hormone levels might improve your asthma whereas at other times it could make it worse.
In order to lessen the chances of an asthma attack brought on by your hormones; you should keep your asthma at a manageable level by using your inhalers as directed by your doctor, making sure that you are using them correctly and attending for regular asthma check-ups at your doctor’s practice.