Knowing your triggers is important to controlling your asthma and avoiding asthma attacks. Triggers and symptoms have a cause-and-effect relationship. Asthma symptoms increase in response to specific triggers. When you find a pattern to your symptoms, you can begin to identify and learn more about your triggers.
Many people with asthma also have allergies. Allergy symptoms are caused by an immune system reaction to things that do not affect people without allergies. Examples of an allergic reaction are skin rash, itching, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, digestive problems, coughing, breathing difficulty, wheezing, and other symptoms similar to asthma.
Allergens are the things that trigger an allergic reaction. Common allergens that bother some people include pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches, indoor and outdoor mold, certain foods, and pollen.
Allergic reactions are common. In people with asthma, allergic reactions can sometimes progress into an asthma attack. When you have allergies that are not controlled, asthma symptoms usually occur immediately and taper off when you are away from the allergen. Even if you have been away from the allergen for several hours, symptoms sometimes reappear. This is called a "late-phase reaction." Controlling your allergies is important and can improve your asthma symptoms.
Both allergens and irritants can trigger asthma. Irritants are substances (such as smoke, pollution, and strong smells) that irritate the airways but do not involve the immune system response that an allergen causes. When the bronchial tubes are inflamed, they become especially sensitive to these irritants.
People come into contact with irritants or allergens in many places: home, school, daycare, public places, the workplace, and just about anywhere they go. Symptoms often start many hours after contact with irritating substances such as gas, dust, smoke, perfumes, chemicals, or other fumes. Air quality may be responsible for some of these triggers.
When you suspect that exposure to something is a trigger, consider the following:
- Other people in the same environment report reactions, even if their reactions do not trigger asthma symptoms.
- When you are away from the area, symptoms clear up.