What are 5 triggers of asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. When exposed to certain triggers, people with asthma can experience flare-ups characterized by coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. By identifying and avoiding triggers, people with asthma can better control their symptoms. Here we will discuss 5 of the most common triggers of asthma attacks.


Allergens are substances that provoke an immune system response in some people. Exposure to allergens triggers asthma symptoms in many individuals with allergic asthma. Common indoor allergens include:

  • Dust mites – Tiny microscopic bugs that live in bedding, carpets, stuffed animals, and other fabric materials.
  • Mold – A fungus that grows in damp areas like bathrooms and basements.
  • Pet dander – Tiny flakes of skin or protein from the fur, feathers, or skin of pets with fur or feathers.
  • Cockroach droppings – Waste particles from cockroaches that can trigger reactions.

Outdoor allergens like pollen and spores can also cause asthma flare ups for some during certain seasons:

  • Pollen – Tiny particles released by trees, grasses, and weeds to fertilize other plants.
  • Spores – Reproductive particles released by fungi and mold.

When a person with asthma inhales allergens, it triggers an immune reaction that causes airway inflammation and narrowing. Avoiding or reducing exposure to known allergy triggers is an important way to control allergic asthma.

Tips for reducing allergen exposure

  • Use air filters and vacuums with HEPA filters.
  • Wash bedding on hot settings weekly.
  • Limit stuffed animals in bedrooms.
  • Fix water leaks and clean mold with bleach.
  • Limit outdoor time during peak pollen seasons.
  • Shower after going outside to rinse pollen off skin and hair.
  • Close windows and use AC instead of fans during pollen season.


Irritants are substances that irritate or inflame the airways, triggering asthma symptoms. Common indoor irritants include:

  • Cleaning products – Chemicals like bleach, ammonia, and scented products.
  • Paints and varnishes – Fumes from DIY projects and renovations.
  • Smoke – From tobacco, wood burning, incense, and wildfires.
  • Air pollution – Smog, vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions.
  • Cold air – Rapid breathing of cold, dry air.

When irritants are inhaled, they can directly damage the delicate airway tissue and spur inflammation that narrows the airways. Reducing exposure to known irritants can help prevent asthma flare ups triggered by irritation and inflammation.

Tips for avoiding irritants

  • Use cleaning products labeled “non-toxic” or “natural”.
  • Turn on exhaust fans and open windows when painting or using strong sprays.
  • Prohibit indoor smoking and limit outdoor smoke exposure.
  • Limit outdoor activities during pollution alerts.
  • Wear a scarf over nose and mouth in cold, dry weather.


Colds, flu, sinus infections, and other respiratory illnesses can worsen asthma. These infections cause increased inflammation and production of excess mucus that clogs the airways. Viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections, like rhinovirus and coronavirus, are the most common infectious asthma triggers. When people with asthma get respiratory infections, it can precipitate a flare-up of wheezing and shortness of breath. Getting recommended vaccines and practicing infection prevention habits can help reduce the risk of infectious asthma attacks.

Tips for preventing infections

  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Get recommended pneumonia and Covid-19 vaccines.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Limit contact with sick people.
  • Disinfect shared surfaces and objects.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth.


For people with asthma triggered by exercise, physical activity can precipitate airflow limitation and breathing difficulties. Exercise-induced asthma occurs when the rapid breathing required during exercise causes drying and cooling of the airways. This leads to bronchospasm or narrowing of the airways, making it harder for air to pass through. Some people only experience asthma symptoms during or after physical activity. Using a fast-acting bronchodilator inhaler before exercise can help prevent exercise-related asthma flare-ups.

Tips for managing exercise-induced asthma

  • Use a bronchodilator inhaler before exercising.
  • Warm up slowly and cool down after physical activity.
  • Exercise indoors during very cold or dry outdoor conditions.
  • Wear a mask or scarf over the nose and mouth in cold weather.

Stress and Emotions

Strong emotions like stress, anxiety, anger or excitement can trigger asthma symptoms. How stress impacts asthma isn’t fully understood, but it may influence airway inflammation and affect the immune system. Things like work pressures, financial concerns, major life changes, traumatic events or relationship issues can potentially bring on an asthma attack. Learning to manage stress and processing challenging emotions may help prevent asthma flare ups.

Tips for coping with emotional triggers

  • Learn relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Exercise regularly to reduce stress.
  • Take timeouts to calm down when overwhelmed.
  • Talk to a counselor or therapist for support.
  • Communicate with friends, family, and peers for perspective.


Asthma attacks can be triggered by a variety of environmental exposures, biological factors like infections, and physiological stimuli like exercise and stress. By identifying individual triggers and employing management strategies, people with asthma can gain greater control over their symptoms. Avoiding known allergens, irritants, infections, and emotional upsets can prevent many asthma flare ups. Medications like bronchodilators can provide quick relief and help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma episodes triggered by exercise, stress and other factors. Working closely with your healthcare provider to determine your personal asthma triggers and create an individualized treatment plan can improve overall asthma control and quality of life.

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