Feeling the squeeze in your lungs and hearing the whistle from your chest is your body’s way of alerting you to a potential asthma flare-up or attack. Your activity level, environment, air quality, and health can all impact your struggle with asthma. Each one contains potential triggers. Triggers spark asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the lungs, and coughing.
Here is a guide to common asthma triggers and how to figure out which ones are impacting your breathing.
1. Dust Mites
Dust mites are nasty little critters that make themselves right at home in your bed, your linens and couch. These tiny organisms are barely visible to the naked eye. Dust mites feed off moisture in the air. They can act as a trigger for both asthma and allergies. So how do you know if dust mites are affecting your health? Consider the symptoms:
- Red, watery, and irritated eyes
- Wheezing, coughing, and tightness in your chest
Dust mites thrive and multiply easily in warm, humid environments. They cozy up to items like pillows, rugs, carpets, and mattresses. If dust mites are triggering your asthma, you may constantly experience issues with your breathing. Dust mites are not seasonal. You can’t get rid of them, but you can cut down on their population. The Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Wash bedding in hot water every week
- Use pillow covers
- Remove dust with a wet rag or mop
- Vacuum regularly (HEPA filter recommended)
- Keep humidity low in your home (use a dehumidifier or air conditioner)
2. Air Pollution
Polluted air can trigger your asthma symptoms. Asthmatics are sensitive to unhealthy air. It can make it harder for them to breathe. There are several components of air quality that can have you reaching for your inhaler or calling your doctor.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mold can trigger an asthma attack. Mold thrives in humid places. If your home has mold, you may be experiencing chronic asthma issues. Combat mold by turning on the air conditioning and use a dehumidifier. Most air quality monitors can track humidity levels in your home or you can use a tool called a hygrometer. Check for any leaks or water damage. It could be a breeding ground for mold.
Pollen, dust, and mold spores are all particulate matter (PM). Particulate matter is one of six common air pollutants designated by the Environmental Protection Agency and in many areas pollen season is growing. PM10, like pollen, is so small, it can be inhaled. PM10 can lead to short and long term breathing issues. Pollen allergies can trigger asthma symptoms. Pollen count varies by season. The EPA says spring pollen season is dragging on in many U.S. cities by up to 25 extra days. The journal Lancet Planetary Health says the growing pollen season increases as the average world temperature rises.
The EPA labels fine dust as the most dangerous type of particulate matter on earth. PM2.5 can be inhaled deep into the lungs and may even get into your bloodstream. It includes everything from fine dust, metals, and organic compounds. The particles are smaller than pollen and mold spores. PM2.5 can trigger asthma symptoms. A 2018 study correlated more exposure to PM2.5 to the increased use of a rescue inhaler. Exposure to PM2.5 is also blamed for an increase in emergency room visits and hospital stays.
An indoor air quality monitor can alert you to unhealthy levels of PM2.5. Air quality monitor technology can sync to your smartphone. You can receive alerts about hazardous air pollutants circulating in your home. The Laser Egg products sync with your smart home appliances to improve air quality.
3. Viral and Bacterial Infections
The common cold can turn into an asthma trigger. A 2015 study found 48 out of 50 asthmatics who suffered from a viral infection developed asthma symptoms within 48 hours. Prevention is basic. The Mayo Clinic suggests practicing proper and frequent handwashing to steer clear of illnesses. Hands should always be washed before a meal. Turn on the humidifier in your home to add moisture into the air. This can help loosen the pressure on your sinuses and keep your airways moist. The Mayo Clinic also recommends avoiding cigarette smoke and polluted air while you are battling a cold or sinus infection. Exposing yourself to these conditions could exasperate your asthma symptoms.
4. Air and Weather Changes
Winter months can be a rough time for asthmatics. Not only are you more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu, but the cold, dry air can trigger your asthma. The Cleveland Clinic says cold air can irritate your airways. Your winter wardrobe can help. Sport a scarf when you go outside and limit your outdoor activity. Winter also means many people are using a fireplace. Smoke from your fireplace contains particulate matter. A 2016 study found a link between the rise in asthma issues and fireplace use during the winter.
Springtime ushers in new potential asthma triggers. Allergies can set off asthma symptoms. The American Lung Association recommends keeping your allergies in check by talking to your doctor about the best treatment options. Tend to your garden and flowers in the morning when the pollen count is the lowest for the day.
Summer months mean sunshine, open windows, and backyard fire pits, but it all comes with potential asthma triggers. Outdoor air quality can tank as humidity and smog sets in during the summer haze. Asthmatics will feel the weight of a poor air quality day. Bug spray and citronella candles can irritate your lungs. Consider avoiding both or finding alternatives to ward off bugs.
Burning a fire in your backyard fire pit or while camping can also trigger your asthma symptoms. Smoke has particulate matter that can lodge in your lungs.
Identifying Your Asthma Triggers
We’ve supplied some helpful tips and hints to help you pinpoint your asthma triggers throughout this article. Here are a few more ways you can nail down what’s causing your lungs to constrict.
Book an appointment with an allergist
Allergies and asthma often go hand in hand. Allergies can trigger asthma symptoms. It’s called allergic asthma. It’s the most common type of asthma. An allergist can perform a skin or blood test to determine if you have it. They can also tell you exactly what you are allergic to—from grass and trees to dogs and cats. An allergist will also be able to pinpoint if you have seasonal or year-round allergies.
Pay attention to patterns
Look for changes in the weather, indoor and outdoor air quality, and the seasons. An indoor air quality monitor for your home can arm you with all the information you need to improve the air your family breathes year round. The Laser Egg air quality monitors keep track of PM2.5 and total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs). TVOCs are emitted from paint, cosmetics, and cleaning products.
Download an outdoor air quality app. We broke down a few of the free options here. These apps will help you make critical decisions about how much time you spend outside for leisure or exercise. Some apps will send you push alerts about the air quality index reading (AQI) in your city and forecast AQI for the day.
Take note of the days you have issues with your asthma and jot down the weather in your town. You may see a pattern over time. High humidity and heat are the perfect mix to breed mold which could be bothering your lungs. It can also trap air pollution. And as we mentioned earlier, cold air can also be an asthma trigger.
You can’t avoid everything that could trigger your asthma, but you can minimize your exposure. Understanding what triggers your symptoms is the first step. Armed with information, you can make conscious decisions to avoid unhealthy air and take action to improve the quality of air in your home.