Asthma: Identifying Your Triggers

During an asthma attack, your airways get swollen and narrow. This makes it hard to breathe. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. But you can make a difference by knowing what your triggers are.

A trigger is anything that makes you have an asthma attack.

If you avoid triggers, you can:

  • Prevent some attacks.
  • Reduce how often you have them and how severe they are.

What are some asthma triggers?

Things you are allergic to can trigger your asthma. They may be:

  • Dust mites. These are tiny, nearly invisible creatures that look like spiders. They live in bedding, carpet, and furniture.
  • Cockroaches.
  • Animal dander. This is loose skin cells (like dandruff) from dogs and cats.
  • Indoor mold.
  • Pollen.

Your asthma can be triggered by other things, even if you are not allergic to them. These include:

  • Cigarette smoke, air pollution, and fumes from gas, oil, or kerosene heaters.
  • Colds, flu, and sinus infections.
  • Exercise.
  • Dry, cold air.
  • Medicines, such as aspirin.
  • In adults, hormones, including those involved in pregnancy and menstrual periods. Your symptoms may change just before or during your period.

How can you identify what triggers your asthma?

A trigger is anything that can lead to an asthma attack or cause symptoms.

When you are around something that triggers your symptoms, keep track of it. This can help you figure out what you should try to avoid.

  • Keep track of symptoms. Note where you were and what you were around when you had symptoms. For example, did going out into cold, dry air trigger an attack? Take your notes to your doctor and discuss them. It may help you learn what triggers your asthma and help you control it better.
  • Get tested for allergies. Skin or blood testing may be used to diagnose allergies. Skin testing involves pricking the skin on your back or arms with small doses of certain allergens. If the area swells and gets red, it shows you have an allergy.
  • Check your lungs with a peak flow meter, if your doctor recommends it. Peak flow can tell you how well your lungs are working. Your lungs will not work as well if you are around a trigger, and yet you may not have any symptoms.

Do you have any questions or concerns after reading this information? It's a good idea to write them down and take them to your next doctor visit.