Do You Know What's Triggering Your Asthma Attack?

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

If you have asthma, you know that there are many things that can set off an attack and leave a person gasping for breath, such as food, grass, mold, pets, and tree pollen. Here’s how you can figure out what’s causing your problem and get the right treatment.

What are allergic asthma triggers?

A true allergy produces an immune system reaction. Most of the time an allergic reaction can be measured by the production of one of two things: immunoglobin E (IgE) or Eosinophils. An allergist can help you determine if allergic triggers are making your asthma worse.

Common triggers can be food (with the top ones being milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat) or they can be nonfood items, like pollen, dust mites, animal dander, and mold, among many others. Working with your allergist is essential to figure out what your specific allergies are, how to limit your exposure, and what medications or treatments might be right for you.

What are nonallergic asthma triggers?

Many triggers surround you, including chemical smells, smoke, and cold air. Sometimes a reaction can be triggered by exercise. Some triggers don’t produce an actual allergic reaction, but they still can cause airway inflammation and wreak havoc on your asthma control.

How do you treat allergic asthma triggers?

The first step in treating allergic triggers is to find out which ones affect you. Everyone is different. As a mom of twins who both have asthma I can definitely attest to that. Your allergist can narrow down the list of items that may be your main triggers, and he or she can show you how to avoid those things.

Your allergist may also suggest medications, such as antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays, to help eliminate some of the symptoms that allergies can cause. Often a maintenance medication or control inhaler and a rescue inhaler will also be discussed. If allergies are severe and unavoidable, biologic medications or allergy shots can be helpful.

If your asthma isn’t triggered by allergies

One thing that can be helpful is to keep a journal of your asthma symptoms. If you seem to notice that they get worse when you exercise or breathe in cold air, then you should talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend a rescue inhaler before you exercise or spend time outdoors in the cold. If smoke is a big trigger, you should quit smoking if you do, avoid secondhand smoke, and steer clear of fireplaces and campfires.

Regardless of what your asthma is triggered by, it is really important to see your doctor if you experience wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or other allergy symptoms. With all of the effective treatments available, there is no reason to suffer.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.