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Triggers for Asthma Attacks

What are the triggers that can cause an asthma attack?

Man sneezing

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American Lung Association, triggers for asthma may include:

Allergens

Respiratory infections and sinusitis

  • Pollen

  • Mold

  • Animal protein (dander, urine, oil from skin)

  • House dust or dust mites

  • Cockroach droppings

  • Certain foods

Infections can cause irritation of the airways, nose, throat, lungs, and sinuses, and may precede an asthma attack.

Irritants

Sensitivity to medications

  • Strong odors and sprays, such as perfumes, household cleaners, cooking fumes, paints, and varnishes

  • Chemicals, such as coal, chalk dust, or talcum powder

  • Air pollutants, such as tobacco smoke, wood smoke, chemicals in the air and ozone

  • Changing weather conditions, including changes in temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, and strong winds

  • Chemical exposure on the job, such as occupational vapors, dust, gases, or fumes.

Medications, such as aspirin, and additives, such as sulfites, cause up to 20 percent of adult asthmatic attacks as a result of sensitivities or allergies to them. These medications often include:

  • Aspirin

  • Other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, indomethacin, and naproxen

  • Sulfites used as preservatives in food and beverage

  • Beta blockers used for heart disease, high blood pressure, migraines, and glaucoma. 

Before taking any medication, including over-the-counter medications, talk with your health care provider.

Exercise

Gastroesophageal reflux

Strenuous physical exercise can trigger an asthma attack, often because of the inhaled cool and dry air. Long-term strenuous activities, such as long distance running, are more likely to induce asthma.

GERD, or indigestion, a condition characterized by persistent reflux of stomach acids, is common in individuals with asthma. Symptoms may include heartburn, belching, or spitting up in infants.

Smoke

Emotional anxiety and nervous stress

Tobacco smoke, whether directly or passively inhaled, has been shown to have harmful effects on the airways.

Wood smoke from wood-burning heating stoves and fireplaces can release irritating chemicals, such as sulfur dioxide.

Reactions from stress and anxiety can increase either asthma symptoms or bring on an attack.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chamberlain, Kevin, DO
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 6/28/2013
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